I am on home leave right now. The purpose of home leave is for us to reconnect with our roots. When we spend a lot of time abroad or away from home, it is easy to lose the connection with a sense of home. Yet home is a very important concept: it is the place we can go back to to refind ourselves and our roots. Why is this important? Because it provides us with a good mirror for seeing how much we have changed, and also for seeing how much we haven’t changed. When we are with ourselves every day, we find it difficult to identify these changes, but by going home and reconnecting with our roots we can see this more clearly. From a Dharma perspective, I find it useful to see how my mind relates to the different people I met. What is interesting, is my thoughts are almost exclusively deluded! Identifying this, though, is the first of the three difficulties. Just diagnosing how our mind is sick is itself an important spiritual practice.
For the last couple of weeks I have been on a whirlwind tour of my past. First, I went to L.A. to visit some friends from college. The first friends I saw were C & B. C is a Senior Partner of a large private equity firm that invests in commercial real estate. He manages a $1.4 billion dollar portfolio in Southern California. His wife is a doctor. They are extremely successful in their careers and are basically swimming in money. I found myself jealous of their success. I found myself thinking, “I was smarter and more capable than them in college, I should be doing even better than they are.” Ugly thought. The spiritual lesson I learned from visiting them was to not be jealous of others’ successes, but to instead rejoice in them and realize we each have our own path.
I then met with my mother in law for breakfast. She is one of the most amazing and genuinely kind and giving people you will ever meet. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for others. She has had a very hard life, but her response to all the hate that has been thrown at her has been to become even kinder. They say you are not marrying the daughter, you are actually marrying her mother because the daughter becomes the mother over time. If this is so, I am sure glad I married my wife because her mother is fabulous.
I then met with my old debate coach. College, for me, was a pretext to debate. I don’t really know what I learned in college, everything I took from it was from debate. My debate coach is basically one of the founding fathers of modern debate. He is a social activist who teaches debate around the world as a means of promoting participatory democracy. He has projects throughout Eastern Europe, Africa and some of the most troubled neighborhoods in the U.S. He will soon put his debate courses on-line, where his ideas will touch millions around the world. I asked him, “why do you do all that you do?” He said, “because one should. If you have a skill, it is your responsibility to share it with others. This is one thing the Communists got right.” Very inspiring example of what one dedicated individual can do in the world.
I then met my old debate partner. When we were in college, he was a radical leftist seeking to overthrow “the man.” He is now a corporate lawyer defending bankers being sued for securities fraud! He is making a ton of money, but is miserable. He has become quite cynical about ever being able to make a positive difference in the world. He has no idea he is in a body (literally, this is true), has ate his way to type-2 diabetes, works about 90 hours a week, hardly ever sleeps, has a completely disorganized life and knows that he is heading towards some sort of train wreck with his life. Yet, it was great to see him again. We were able to have one of our classic late night “jam sessions” where we discuss the cosmic implications of everything. The spiritual lessons I learned from my visit is it is important to have our life together, to keep our body healthy and in alignment with our mind, and to never forget that we can make any work meaningful if we relate to it in a meaningful way.
I then went to Portland where I went to High School. I visited my old elementary, middle and high schools. I stayed with my best friend from first grade through 12th grade. His fireball of a Philipino mom basically raised me. When I walked into her house, she looked at me and said “what happened to you?!? You’re bald and you got fat!” She says it like it is, but she is always right – the quality of her family is testament to that. My friend is working as a chip maker for Intel, but his real passion is coaching soccer for the teams his kids are on. He coaches 4 different soccer teams. He showed me the importance of investing time in your kids and the importance of sports to a kids development. We desperately wanted to play our old favorite board game Axis and Allies, but couldn’t find it. Why? Because his house was a total mess! Interesting how most of my old friends are slobs! hee hee Another reason why I am lucky to have my wife who has established a very high standard of cleanliness and organization in our home. I also saw the parents of my high school girlfriend. The mom now has M.S. and is falling apart. The Dad is the same as always. They too helped raise me and seeing them helped me remember that. I then saw another old friend who used to be a young Republican but is now a hippy environmentalist. She was with a guy who was a real jerk to her and who wanted them to be a “power couple”, now she is with a guitar player. Externally, most people conclude he is a real loser, but in reality he is a quality human being who loves her and their kids very much. Success takes many different forms.
I then flew up to Seattle. I saw an old high school friend who is one of those pure geniuses. He graduated from CalTech and has been at the cutting edge of invention his whole life. First he did all sorts of work with lasers, from guidance systems to computer networking. He is now working on the technology which will one day allow cars and trucks to drive themselves. He met his wife on match.com, she is also brilliant and teaches mythology to gifted students around the world through on-line courses. Their kids likewise glow with brilliance. In high school, he would have been the last person who you would expect to be married with a healthy, stable family. Now, he has a model family.
I then went up to see one of my brothers. He was an undercover narcotics detective, but now works with the canine drug detection unit. He intentionally chooses to work night shifts, part because he likes the freedom and part escapism. His son, unfortunately, talks only of the bars he visits and the computer games he plays despite having a very young baby with a now ex-girlfriend who he hates. My brother is a little ashamed of his life and his family and so winds up avoiding my father who has high expectations. The spiritual lesson I took from my visit with him is the importance of accepting people as they are and that avoidance can become such a habit that it is almost impossible to come back from.
I then went to visit my family in Spokane. My father leads a very charmed life, flying his own plane between his home in Palm Springs in the Winter, his beautiful home in Spokane overlooking the valley for Spring and Fall, and his boat in the Summer. His third wife is finally the right one for him and she is fantastic – a good friend of his dating back 45 years. His problem, though, is he has a tendency to stand in judgment of everyone around him who falls short of his very high expectations. He doesn’t mean to do this, he thinks he is just encouraging people to live up to (his vision of) their potential, but it has the effect of making people feel judged, so they then avoid him. He then laments how everyone avoids him or neglects him and he doesn’t understand why. He is extremely rich and gives more in absolute terms than probably everybody else in the family combined, but in percentage terms he gives very little and people judge him as being miserly. This is also a source of constant frustration for him. He says nothing is more important to him than family, but he struggles to spend any time with his family or invest in their lives. He has worked so hard his whole life providing for others, he feels he now has to cherish himself while he is still healthy and still can. He is a very good guy, but has no spiritual foundations in him at all – in fact, he has a rejection of anything spiritual as being a bunch of superstitious non-sense. My problem is I constantly judge him through the lens of Dharma. I focus more on resentment for what he didn’t give than gratitude for what he did give. I constantly feel the need to try to change him or get him to embrace goodness, when in reality I am just trying to get him to accept me. I find myself EXTREMELY preoccupied with whether he approves of me and my choices, so much so you would think I was 10 years old. There is so much we can learn about ourselves by looking into the mirror of our parents.
I also saw my other brother with whom I have grown very close over the years. He has basically adopted my father’s life (took over his practice, basically walking exactly in my father’s footsteps). But he is doing it right. He invests completely in his kids, even though he sometimes overdoes it on pumping them up with how great they are. His kids are great, but it does not help them to breed pride into them. That small mistake aside, he is a great human being who has saved my butt many many times. I love him very much. I also saw my extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. We have a huge family in Spokane and it is great to bring them all together. It is from this that I have a love of large families. My Sangha is my global vajra family that I hope to be reborn into life after life.
Sorry this was a long post, but I wanted to get all of this down. I guess the main point is it is useful from time to time to reconnect with our roots. We can learn so much about ourself and our path by doing so.