Oh, no!!! I just got an email from them asking me to share the word!

It might be that they haven’t opened it for general registration yet. I will find out and let you know.

Kellie Snider, MS
Manager of Animal Behavior Programs
SPCA of Texas
362 Riverfront Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75207
214-461-5137
ksnider

Our pets are dreaming of having a home for the holidays. Adopt today.

Bring the whole family (pets, too!) to find your new best friend at the SPCA of Texas and give the gift of love to a needy pet – www.spca.org or call 214-742-SPCA (7722).

The SPCA of Texas is the leading animal welfare agency in North Texas. The non-profit organization operates two shelters and two spay/neuter clinics located in Dallas and McKinney, and maintains a team of five animal cruelty investigators to respond to thousands of calls in eight North Texas counties. Moreover, the SPCA of Texas serves as an active resource center for an array of services that bring people and animals together to enrich each others’ lives. The SPCA of Texas is not affiliated with any other entity and does not receive general operating funds from the City of Dallas, State of Texas, federal government or any other humane organization. The SPCA of Texas is dedicated to providing every animal exceptional care and a loving home.

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This is the way I remember this story.  I’m sure there are details I’m not getting exactly as it happened, but the events described are real. 

In January 1992 my sister, Kerrie, and her husband, Kelly, who were living in Gretna, Louisiana, across the river from New Orleans, went out driving with their 3 month old daughter, Chelsea, who was fussy that evening.  Kelly had just gotten off work and was tired and Kerrie drove. They pulled up to an ATM at their bank to make a deposit.  When they stopped, another vehicle blocked their exit and two young men- probably only teenagers- jumped out wearing nylon stockings over their faces and weilding hand guns.  One ran to each side of the car.  Kerrie shoved her purse out the window thinking that was what they wanted. 

The man on the passenger’s side smashed the window and shot across the front seat, hitting Kerrie in the left thigh.  The bullet went clear through her leg, missing the bone but barely, and lodged in the door of the car.  Then the same shooter turned to Kelly who was turning to block Chelsea in her car seat in the back.  The gun was aimed at Kelly’s chest, but as he turned and raised his arm the bullet shattered his elbow. 

A courageous woman ran to their sides and held terrified little Chelsea and talked with them while they waited for the police.  She stayed with them in the danger and prayed with them and comforted them as much as was possible. 

My mother called to tell me, and I felt like I was in an elevator that suddenly dropped.  They were alive, but they’d been seriously injured.  Chelsea had only minor scrapes from flying glass. But someone shot my sister and her husband and the world was no longer safe for anyone.  Always before when I had thought of someone hurting my loved ones I thought that I would want revenge. There would be no revenge for this crime.  The young men shot and injured four people that night, but they were never caught. 

The surprise was that I felt no desire for them to be hurt in return. I wanted them to be stopped and incarcerated since clearly they were not safe members of society.  But the thought that haunted me was, “What happened to these boys to make them so willing to hurt my sister’s family?”  When I talked with my brother and mother and sister, they all echoed the thought.  What happened to them when they were little boys?  Who failed to love them?  What hurricane took their security?  What parent failed to provide them with unconditional love?  Who exploited their trust with pain so deep that the only way to expel it was to cause intense and overwhelming fear in others?

The police surmised that they were doing a gang initation, but they didn’t kill anyone.  They shot 3 women in the leg and one man in the arm… although I suspect if Kelly had turned less quickly the bullet would have entered his chest and the death count would have been one. But it wasn’t.  They weren’t good enough at evil to kill. 

I’m not sure why compassion was available to me then.  Compassion didn’t make me wish for those boys to have freedom nor to think that what they did didn’t matter.  It meant that for some reason I was able to see that a long chain of causes and effects led to what they did and that if not my sister’s family, someone else’s.  The chain of events was already in motion, rolling downhill and gathering speed. I was able to see that those boys were responding without introspection to things other people had initiated beyond and outside their control. 

In Shambhala and Buddhist study we are taught about lovingkindness.  It is also known as buddha nature, which we all have.  (Buddha was a man, not a god.  If he could do it, we, as humans, can also become buddhas.)  Basic goodness is in all of us. 

So, what of those boys that shot those good people on that dark night? Why did they behave in ways that were neither loving nor kind?  These many years later I think I know.  I think this knowing was with me all along, and revealed itself when those boys shot my sister.   

Shambhala

I just finished a weekend of Shambhala Training.  Level 2 was very difficult for me.  In Level 1 we learned about our innate goodness and lovingkindness.  In Level 2 we pulled our gazes inward, both physically during meditation, looking at the floor just in front of us rather than six feet beyond, and in terms of our mindfulness.  Rather than focusing on our inward breath, we focused on inhalation and exhalation.  It sounds easy, right?  Sit on a cushion, look at the floor beyond your feet and breath.  For an evening and two full days we sat and breathed and pulled our vision inward.  There were periods of walking meditation, interviews with our directors, talks, discussions and meals, but then it was back to the pillow.  We all struggled.  My avoidance for the weekend was fighting an urge to sleep, which has never been a problem for me during meditation before.  Sunday morning I woke up completely congested and unable to breathe through either nostril.  I got up and went to the retreat anyway, and the congestion went away.  It was like my avoidance realized I wasn’t going to fall for its trickery.  I was going whether I was sick or not.  I was not sick.  The congestion was completely gone by mid-morning. 

It was in this sitting and  breathing in and out and looking that we encountered those things in our lives that are holding us back.  For each of us it was unique, but many of us found similar obstacles.  For me, I came face to face with my tendency to avoid problems.  I’ve been working on this for ages.  In my youth if I ran into a glitch at my job, I would get a new one, or maybe a new apartment. Later if I had a problem with my marriage, I would talk and interrupt and insist that I was right. In my 40’s when things were challenging, I’d engage in some activity that kept me from having to face what was difficult. Stay busy, zone out in some hobby, don’t look anyone in the eye. 

In my 50s I began to meditate and running away or putting up barriers was revealed to be a way of attaching myself to pain.  Who knew that running away was a form of attachment?  I’ve been so attached to avoiding troubles that I haven’t learned how to deal with them very effectively. 

Compassion

So where does compassion come from?  It comes from a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of cause and effect in this world.  Those boys that shot Kerrie and Kelly have either grown into men or they have died.  If they are alive, they have either straightened up or they are still living their lives of attachments and pain.  If they have straightened up, it is because they found a way to look themselves in the eye and realize that they did possess basic goodness.  And if they are still living outside their basic goodness, it is still there inside them, untapped and unrealized.

There is no moral polarity.  Good does not exist without bad.  Black does not exist without white.  There is only awareness and its companion, lack of awareness.  Awake and not awake.  Once we recognize this, compassion arises.

The Human Dharma

April 26, 2010

It turns out the Grand Poobah religious figure in the USA, Jesus, did some stuff that didn’t make a lot of sense.  The one that comes to mind is getting mad at the fig tree and cursing it to death because it didn’t have any figs and he was hungry.  Um… seriously, Jesus? The tree would have had figs if the conditions had been right.  Wouldn’t it have been better to curse the environment?  Or the fig tree’s health?  The Buddha said that attachments cause suffering.  Jesus experienced suffering because he craved a fig so much he couldn’t stand it.  But taking the story at face value, his craving caused suffering not only for himself, it also killed the tree, so there could be no more figs for anyone from that tree. 

Jesus also rejected his family and said that he had a new family in the form of his disciples.  Buddha did that, too.  In fact, he ditched his parents, wife and kid and didn’t see them for ages.  Later in his life his family became his followers, but he did ditch them and cause them suffering.  Among the things the Buddhist works on is his compassion.  Although he left them so he could figure out the source of suffering and the resolution of suffering, he also caused suffering.

The thing is, these guys were people.  They weren’t gods.  Buddha didn’t even claim to be.  He didn’t even assign anyone to carry on his work.  He said that people need to figure out the way the world works by practicing on their own.  Jesus did claim to be the son of God, as well as the Son of Man, but he was human.  He had faults.  Buddha had faults.  All us people got faults.

As a freshly minted Buddhist I have been thinking about how it used to irk me when Christians edited the Christian story to make it suit their experiences.  A lot of modern Christians actually redefine God to suit their perspectives.  Now I find myself doing the same thing with Buddhism.  I don’t buy the supernatural stuff in Buddhism any more than I buy it in Christianity. 

What I buy is the Four Noble Truths, and how practicing them leads you automatically to walking the Eightfold Path.  Nothing magical. Nothing that requires faith without evidence.  Just walk the walk.

The Four Noble Truths

  • There is suffering (dukkha).
  • There is a cause of suffering (craving).
  • There is the cessation of suffering (nirvana).
  • There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering.
  • The Eightfold Path

    1. Right View
    2. Right Intention
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration

    The intersting thing is that nirvana doesn’t happen in the great hereafter.  It happens here and now when you practice.  Bits and pieces of nirvana start showing up.  The more you practice, the more you get.

    Monkey Mind

    March 6, 2010

    Meditation is learning to know and eventually control the monkey mind. 

    Monkey mind is that situation where your thoughts are all off doing all sorts of things while the rest of your body is doing something else.  It’s when you start to wash the dishes and your thoughts are saying, “Damn it.  I have five loads of laundry to do and the stove looks like someone made chili without a pan. If I don’t get this done by 10:00 I won’t have time to finish before my doctor’s appointment.  I need to go in to work early on Monday if I’m going to finish writing the procedure in time for the meeting.  Dang it, I WISH he would throw the junk mail away instead of stacking it on the countertop. Oh, look at the squirrel on the fence… so cute.”  And when you wake up from Monkey Mind, if you ever do, you have stopped washing the dishes and are on to some other task you won’t finish in the time you have available.   You feel irritated and frustrated and rushed and ugh.  Monkey Mind prevents you from paying attention. 

    But we are not striving for a rigid control.  It is more like clicker training animals.  It is, “Yes!  That’s right!”  while simply acknowledging imperfections and letting them go.  It’s never, “No, that’s wrong, and you shall be hurt for it!”  Because in Buddhist teaching, we are all already perfect beings who are on a different place on the path.  If you have overcome prejudices I am still succombing to, you are not better than me, we are simply at a different point on the path.  Oh, and the path leads to HERE, not someplace out there in the future. And we all have a different “here”.  When I was 18 I wrote a song that included the words, “Living is the road and not the goal.”  I had an inkling even way back then, but I still don’t completely understand it all these years later.  Oh, my silly Monkey Mind.

    I found a book at Half Price entitled “The Accidental Buddhist” by Dinty Moore, who I think is a canned soup product.  It was written in the 90s by this guy who went to a bunch of Buddhist retreats trying to figure out the place for Buddhism in America.  He even had a chance to briefly meet the Dalai Lama.  One of the first teachers he encountered told him that the answer to his questions was to “just sit”, but he didn’t understand it until he’d followed his Monkey Mind all over north America.  As his sitting practice began to mature he began to realize that it wasn’t about traipsing off to parts unknown to spend time with people who were also traipsing, and it wasn’t about breaking the bank on retreats.  It was about learning to be present where you are right now.  Ram Dass said it all back in the 60s when he said, “Be here now.”  But everyone thought he was some hippie nut sitting around smoking pot and luring American Hippie kids off to some stoned nirvana.  Everyone was clueless.  And everyone still is, thanks to Monkey Minds everywhere.

    So, Dinty Moore had a press pass to a speaking engagement with the Dalai Lama, and he had a chance to ask a question.  The question he asked was something like, “What’s your take on the future of Buddhism in America?”  The Dalai Lama said, “Well, you’re really Judeo-Christian people, so you should probably just be Jews and Christians.”  This struck him like it did me, and like it probably did every American Buddhist in the audience.  “Well, damn, Dalai, I’ve come this far and you’re telling me you don’t want me on your path?”  But he kept going, probably because he saw everyone turning pale and looking a little too bewildered.  He added, “Well, ya’ know, it’s probably right for some Americans to be Buddhists, but I think too many Americans become Buddhists because they are mad about something about their Christian or Jewish religions.  If you want to be a Buddhist, that’s not a good reason.”  Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing with wild abandon.  “If you become a Buddhist be gentle with your old faith.”  Or something like that.

    Now, that hit me where I live, but not with such a powerful punch to the solar plexus.  I have family members who demonstrate a lot of love and support and are good people in that old faith, which is, by the way, not as old as Buddhism.  Where you find goodness is where you find goodness.  I was waking up during my parents’ illnesses and all our funerals and all that grief.  I was learning to look past the rituals and judgments to the people doing the practicing.  And I started getting better at forgiving and about not judging in the first place so there was less to forgive.   And right there is something that is very Buddhist.  I started to see that I laid the foundation that was the stage for resentment and judgment.  The less cement I use in the foundation, the less likely resentment and judgment are to come and perform on it.

    Christianity takes an approach to self-improvement that is based on avoiding punishment, while at the same time putting the source of goodness and the source of evil “out there” where we are just victims or lucky recipients is problematic.  Blaming sin on Satan instead of on the fact that each of us helped to build the Satan Foundation.  Saying we can never be perfect.  But when it comes right down to it, that works for some people, and they are on their paths.  They are not better than me.  I am not better than them.  That’s not an easy admission, because there are Christian leaders whose views still disgust me, even knowing that they are creating their own Karma. 

    Buddhism takes an approach to self-improvement (the road to enlightenment) that reinforces every step.  The general idea is that if you acknowledge the Four Noble Truths (Life consists of suffering, Suffering comes from attachments, Suffering can be eliminated, and It’s eliminated by releasing your attachments) and walk the eightfold path (Right view, Right intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) (Google them if you’re interested in learning more…. there is a lot online)you have what it takes to be a Buddha.  And quite honestly, even if you don’t follow exactly those steps, you can still be a Buddha.  It’s just that many people, in not wanting to reinvent the dharma wheel, decided that since this has helped a lot of people over 2,500 years, they will walk on this path.

    Some people even say that Jesus was a Buddha.  We can all be a Buddha.  You and I can be a Buddha. 

    Peace,

    Shiwa Nyi-tso

    Meditator Tot on the Dharma Path

    These are fundamental ideas in Buddhism:  Don’t kill.  Don’t cause suffering. 

    Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not eat meat, because it involves both killing and suffering of the animal.  Most Buddhists eat meat, and even the Buddha did.  His advice was to eat what is offered to you and don’t complain, but don’t kill or have killed any animal just so you can eat.  If you stop by Uncle Joe’s, he wasn’t expecting you, and he’s just barbecued a brisket and offers you a plate, take it and eat it graciously.  It seems like good advice but I haven’t succeeded there yet.

    Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not kill animals. I work in an animal shelter where euthanasia is practiced for certain animals. I am uncomfortable with the euthanasia of animals that have a minor, treatable ailment.  I’m also uncomfortable with the long term warehousing of animals with conditions that make them unadoptable and cause prolonged suffering.   And I’m also uncomfortable with the fact that for every animal upon whom we spend our resources, other adoptable animals are not able to enter our program.  I am not sure there is a solution to this conundrum. 

    An aggressive dog is suffering.  A terrified dog is suffering.  If we cannot resolve fear with reasonable means, we can eliminate suffering by euthanasia.  This is a dichotomy. An aggressive dog can cause a great deal of suffering.  If we adopted out a dog that then injured someone, we could be sued and an end could, conceivably, be placed on our efforts to relieve the suffering of animals. The dog, the injured party, the organization’s reputation and employees, and countless animals that cannot then be adopted through our shelters could conceivably suffer.  So, do we end the suffering for the aggressive dog, or create the potential to cause suffering for many people and animals? 

    I know how to treat aggression.  But I don’t know how we would be able to ensure that there was never an aggressive response from that animal again.  My crystal ball is murky… no, well… it’s nonexistant.  At the same time, we can’t guarantee that ANY dog will never behave aggressively under some set of circumstances in the future.  Every time we adopt out an animal we are taking a risk.  We perform assessments to minimize the risk, but there are no guarantees. 

    Life is often like this.  No clear-cut answers.  No way to make a perfect decision. 

    For me, for now, I will work to reduce suffering.

    Peace, 

    Shiwa Nyi-Tso

    Pop and Kellie

    January 29, 2010

    My husband just found this picture of me with my Dad.

    When he was feeling well.  It had to be before the end of May 2008.

    This was a Sunday morning. We were seeing him off after one of his sleep overs.  He was telling one of his stories.

    I miss my Dad.

    Auspicious Coincidences

    January 27, 2010

    A lot has happened since I last posted.  I’ve continued down the meditation path and had an auspicious coincidence or two. 

    I started attending the Dallas Shambhala Center about a month or so ago.  I had looked for a place for a while and nothing seemed right.  I was actually looking for a Zen Center, but ended up going to Shambhala, which is Tibetan, because… well… er… because it was held at a Unitarian Universalist church.  I was a UU for years and years, and figured if Shambhala was too weird I could always go across the atrium to choir practice.

    Well, Shambhala wasn’t too weird at all.  It was actually very nice.  Nice people of all ages, shapes sizes.  Some still practicing other faiths, some only Buddhists.  All willing to chat about what was up with their spiritual practice. 

    It also turned out that the regional teacher, Archya Moh Hardin, was coming to town to do a retreat and a refuge ceremony.  I decided to attend the retreat, held at a historic downtown building.  And I also decided that I wanted to take refuge. 

    Taking refuge just means becoming a Buddhist.  You take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  But you’re really taking refuge in your own Buddha nature.  You don’t find it outside yourself, it’s already there.  But you do have to look for it, and the Buddha lead by an example of how to do that. 

    The retreat was a delightful opportunity to get to know members of the sangha.  My hips hurt like a bad boy by the end of it, but my heart felt light.  I showed my rugs at the reception where people were invited to share their art.  They were well received.  And then I went home and left them there, so they got to spend a couple nights with sweet Margo, one of the center directors.  I feel like they have been blessed. 

    I had already scheduled an interview with Moh.  When the time came, I asked him about it.  I told him about my recent journeys with grief, how I learned to deal with them by mindfulness meditation.  At first he said there wouldn’t be a problem with waiting… there was no reason to do it now.  But by the end of the conversation we both felt it was right for me to go ahead and go for it. In fact, he told me that he took his vows very early in his practice, too.  Toward the end, he said that perhaps it was an auspicious coincidence that he was in town at just the time I was ready to become a Buddhist.  As I stepped out of the room with him after the interview, I told him, “I feel peaceful.”  He said, “I feel good about this.” 

    The next night was the Refuge Vows.  Five of us were on the front row on our meditation cushions.  Some of them had been practicing for years, but I didn’t feel out of place.  We did our usual meditations with the sangha (congregation), which consist of 20 minutes or so of sitting meditation, 10 or so of walking meditation, and another 5ish of sitting.  Then Moh spoke about the meaning of taking refuge, and that we were being asked to project an open attitude, a changed “mark” (kind of an adjective that people would notice about you… like… when you see someone who is in love and you can tell, even if they don’t say anything), and the offering of kindness to everyone.  He said that when he snapped his fingers at the appropriate time, the transition would take place and we would feel our new lives. 

    I had my doubts at that point.  I was baptized twice in the Christian fundamentalist faith of my childhood, and didn’t feel anything different either time. 

    We were asked to take 3 half prostrations (kneel and touch the hands and forehead to the floor) to symbolize the practicality of trusting the Earth.  One to the Buddha, which means, to the way of Buddhism, one to the dharma, which means, the teachings of the Buddha, and one to the sangha, which is a word that means something like fellowship or congregation.   

    Then he talked about our lives on the path.  And he snapped his fingers.  And I felt it.  That was a really good set up!

    Then he presented our new names, written by him in calligraphy in English letters, and in Tibetan script.  He said that these are our real names, they’re ours, and that if we want that’s the name we can go by, but that most in Shambhala reserve it for Buddhist occasions. 

    The name I received was Shiwa Nyi-Tso.  It means Peaceful Sun-Lake.  So now, even though I remain a Meditator Tot, I have something else to put in my signature.  🙂

    When I arrived, Moh’s wife, and one of our regional teachers, commented on my earrings.  I had seen them that day while out and about, and bought them because they featured a sunburst in the center.  I said, “I wasn’t shopping for earrings, but these just appealed to me.”  Afterwards she said, “First you said after your interview with Moh that you felt peaceful.  Then you bought these sun earrings.  And your name.  What a set of auspicious coincidences!”  Indeed.  Of course, saying peaceful was before my name was selected.  And although I don’t believe in magical coincidences, it was still a sweet coincidence… an auspicious one, you might say. 

    Now I just need a lake and I’ll be all set!  In the meantime I have my little water garden which will get some fancying up this spring, that’s for sure! 

    I’ll be back, with more reports on the path.  It turns out that my path leads to right where I am.  And yours leads to where you are.  So I guess at the moment, our paths lead to our computer chairs, eh?

    I find so many parallels with training dogs. So many.  And the peaceful thrum thrum thrum of rug hooking is a mantra. 

    Peace be with you,

    Shiwa Nyi-Tso

    Peaceful Sun-Lake

    Also known as Kellie.  🙂  And Meditator Tot.