Do No Harm – Jainism

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My personal discovery of Jainism came while teaching world religions at Oakton College in suburban Chicago. This non-theistic (no “god” per se) religion arose in India around 500 BCE, based on the insights of the spiritual teacher Mahavira. While I am not a Jain, the teachings have a positive impact on my life.

The symbol shown above presents the main tenets of Jainism. The word in the center, ahimsa, literally means “stop”, referring to cycles of reincarnation as represented by the  wheel. The answer to how this cycle of birth and death may be stopped or transcended comes in the practice of ahimsa, which can provide the basis for a renewal of the world, through the healing of a single life.

The Jain teaching of ahimsa asserts that by doing no harm to any living thing, we heal ourselves and create healing energy that moves beyond us.  We are counseled to also avoid angry thoughts and actions. According to Gandhi, a Hindu who valued Jain teachings, ahimsa additionally precludes evil thoughts and hatred, and unkind behavior such as harsh words, dishonesty, and lying, all of which he saw as manifestations of violence.

No violence, no harm, no unkindness. What a world we could create while seeking to renew and free ourselves!

A few years ago I was invited to teach a series of classes on religious traditions at a synagogue in suburban Minneapolis. For those unable to attend, a friend recorded a video of each session and posted them to YouTube. Amazingly, the video on Jainism has received more than 15,000 views.

Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPoJPd9z6mo&t=594s

 

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Steve’s Gift

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En route to a show at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, a friend and I decide to park halfway and then take a bus.

“Easier than parking downtown!” say I.

Then again, maybe not.

Waiting for our bus, we chat with a man named Steve. One leg artificial, the other wrapped in an Ace Bandage, Steve has the appearance of a too-young-for-VietNam vet. Friendly and talkative, he continues to engage with us on the trip downtown.

Getting off the bus on Nicollet and 7th, I manage to trip, ending up sprawled on the sidewalk. My friend helps me up and to a nearby bench, as my left ankle rapidly puffs to double its normal size.

Having gotten off at the same stop, Steve walks over.

“Wow, that looks bad. You need to head to the emergency room,” he says.

We had reached the same conclusion.

As we arrange for a Lyft driver, Steve unwinds the Ace bandage from his leg. Handing it to me he says, “Don’t worry, it’s clean. You need this more than I do.”

Rather than a concert at First Avenue, I spend the evening at the Abbott-Northwestern ER. My ungraceful fall results in ligament tears on both sides of the ankle, as well as in the ligament connecting tibia to fibula in the calf.

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Twelve weeks recovery,” says the orthopedic doc.

But the residual glow of Steve’s open-hearted generosity continues to defeat the shadows of temporary discomfort and inconvenience.

May he receive a thousand times over the goodness he shared.

 

 

WARNING: TRUTH WILL BE TOLD

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If I were to draw a picture of my childhood home, it would show a single-family house, clean to the point of pain, silent in what is left unsaid, false in what is shown to those who dwell beyond the four walls, rising in the midst of a fastidious yard, on a quiet street in a small town dominated by self-contained Scandinavians.

My brother Rick died recently. Properly my half-brother, he was a little guy when his birth dad died in a car accident. Ten years older than me, he left home for college when I was only seven. My dad, his step-dad, adopted him and our older sister Sylvia after he married our mom. Dad could be sarcastic to my brother, and Rick felt that I was the favored child. Which, in some ways, I was. I wish it could have been easier for him growing up. And then he served two tours in Viet Nam. But with humor, a loving wife, great sons, and many friends, he appeared to do very well in his life.

Yet we never fully know the secret complexities of another’s life. Upon others, we may pronounce judgment and dismiss them. We also judge ourselves, as we do our best to cope. And that coping may lead us into the darkness of disfunction and shame until we stop accepting responsibility for circumstances over which we had no control.

As I only learned many years later, our high school counselor, Mr. Woods, suggested to my parents that I see a psychologist, so apparent was my emotional disarray. They declined without telling me. In those days, I carried a well of sorrow that flooded into tears at the slightest provocation. My anxiety was constant. At age 13, I began stealing liquor from my parents in an attempt to ease my distress. After high school, I floated in and out of college and relationships, in and out of jobs and apartments. Then in my mid-twenties, I changed my college major to forest management. The study of solid subjects like calculus and botany and meteorology and surveying began to balance and rectify my soul.

And I wrote.

Now I am older, calmer, kinder to myself, immersed in the beauty of life, family, friends, nature, and my own true beloved. We are composite creatures. Bodies which function autonomically, souls which guide us if we listen. We are the result of myriad generations of successful reproduction and survival. We are born and we will die. What comes after is a supposition.

Today, we are.

Beyond the basics of survival, which none of us should ever take for granted, does it matter how much stuff we have? Are we concerned about the judgment of others, when all anyone else can know is the teeniest corner of someone else’s life? Do we dwell in regret and shame about a past that has brought to where we are today?

No. No more. And the relief is beyond words to express. My story is my own and I turn it into healing words.

Peace be with you. May we each find our way.

Historical Inquiry/Historical Iniquity

While reading “The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became U.S. Property” by historian Martin Case (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018), I began thinking about the homesteads of my maternal great-grandparents, the Blixes and the Johnsons. On both sides, they settled on rocky, inhospitable tracts in Nora Township, south of Bagley, Minnesota.

The western edge of Nora Township lay only a few miles from the White Earth Reservation eastern boundary. On the Blix side, Albert and Anna arrived in 1901. Did they have interactions with residents of White Earth? Having themselves come from far-northern Norway, and being of probable Sami extraction, did they feel a kinship with the indigenous people of the area?

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Undated post card sent to Arthur Blix by his future wife, Nora Township neighbor Mathilda Johnson.

Much of the White Earth land was sold to timber companies, land development companies, and individuals who had the money to invest. The injustice of the treaty system rankles and questions remain. My ancestors lived on land transformed from hunting and fishing grounds, formerly inhabited by people for whom land as “private property” was unthinkable. The future of the Ojibway people of White would be challenging.

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From Clearwater County Atlas, 1912, showing 160 acres solely owned by by Anna Blix.

Not that life was easy for the homesteaders. After the Blix family settled in Nora Township, husband and father Albert was committed to the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in St. Peter, where he died in 1915. Meanwhile, Anna Blix raised sons Arthur, James, and Erven (spelling varies), managed a farm, and served as postmistress and secretary to the school board.

My mother remembers Anna, her grandmother, as small and stern. She raised her sons strictly, punishing Arthur for chasing a rabbit on Sunday. She was a Christian of the stoic variety, interesting, since organized religion came late to northern Norway, where they followed their own spiritual traditions well after the rest of Europe succumbed to the missionaries.

Great-uncle Erven died early in World War I, a radio operator who went down with the ship. My grandfather Arthur died at the Crookston tuberculosis sanatorium at age 49. Great-uncle James never married, remained in the small homestead house built by his parents, and was found lying dead on the kitchen floor in his mid-sixties.

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Undated photo of Albert Martin Blix, who died at the Minnesota Hospital for the Insane in 1915.

Political institutions, religious hierarchies, financial institutions, and corporate entities tend to obscure their real goals behind a mask of caring for the needs of those they supposedly serve. As “The Relentless Business of Treaties” make clear, there is nothing new under the sun, nor in the penumbra of disguised motives.

Creating a World

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Creating a World

As one writes a novel, letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, people say things, do things, see things and feel things. Babies are born. People get sick; they recover or die. Characters are created and take on a reality of their own.

Each of us, second by minute by hour by day by month by year, write our own life story. We each create our world, including places, people, communication, and action. While a novelist controls the life span of characters, our own personal comedic drama unfolds in an unknown span of time.

Over many years of counseling hospice patients and their families (work from which I retired to focus on writing), I learned that no one regrets saying, “yes” to adventure, or to healing broken relationships, or to foregoing material pursuits for the sake of personal integrity and well-being. At the end of life, what matters is quality of relationships, and the sense of peace with where one stands spiritually. By this I don’t mean religiosity; this can actually present a hinderance to a peaceful end, through a sense of guilt or fear.

What I mean is “being right with the world”. Knowing that one has done more good than harm, that we have forgiven ourselves and others for mistakes, that we have asked pardon for the harm we have done others, that we took chances and lived fully and fearlessly.

Today is The Day, friends. Let’s each write a story of love, kindness, laughter, acceptance, and adventure.

 

 

Dipped and Debris 2422 Central Ave. NE

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Judging by the photo above, you can imagine my astonishment at having missed this establishment during my exploratory/gustatory journey up Central NE. Seriously! It looks like a lost circus tent, plopped between Durango Bakery and Sen Yai Sen Lek.

From one of the counter servers, I learn that Dipped and Debris has been open for 7 weeks, which is about the time I observed its blue and white striped presence. Looking back at the blogs, my visits to restaurants on that particular block pre-date Dipped and Debris. Whew. What is now D & D formerly was the south half of Sen Yai Sen Lek. I’m not sure what the story is with that transformation.

IMG_4083As to the name, it plays on the fact that the two featured menu items are the “Dipped”, a beef sandwich dipped in gravy (which my dining companion ordered, more on that later) and “Debris”, described as tasty bits of roast beef on a French loaf. They also sell frozen custard, another factor on the “Dipped” side.

IMG_4086One orders at the counter. In addition to sandwiches and ice cream, there are small bags of chips and beverages available.

Let’s start with the good news. I order the “Pseudo Fowl”, described as a Mock Duck Po Boy garnished with cabbage, pickled carrots, mushroom gravy, on a crispy French loaf. While the bread does not hold up to the contents, it tastes fabulous. I would definitely get this again. Now the less good news. My friend Judy orders the “Dipped” with gravy on the side, and is disappointed to be served a pile of roast beef on a roll. Nothing but meat and bread. I must concur that the sandwich appears rather stark. Down the road, the owners might consider including a side of good slaw and a few chips, along with sturdier bread.

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Lest this sound excessively critical, Judy said the beef is tasty, and as noted, my mock duck sandwich tastes yummy. The sound level is comfortable, and the business, take-out and eat-in, flows steady. Seating-wise, diners may choose amongst low tables, high-top tables, and stools at the window counter.

A future visit, which I envision happening on that first really warm day in spring when one’s fancy turns to thoughts of frozen desserts, will include a Pseudo Fowl redux, followed by a bowl of custard with an extravagant array of toppings.

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From The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, “Beware irony, ignore criticism, look to what is simple, study the small and humble things of the world, do what is difficult precisely because it is difficult, do not search for answers but rather love the questions, do not run away from sadness or depression for these might be the very conditions necessary to your work. Seek solitude, above all, seek solitude.”