misc-joy

Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Family

Dead Bodies in Public

By on December 4, 2018

It was 1994 as I traveled home on the 21 Hayes street bus in San Francisco. I was a block from home when we stopped at the corner of Hayes and Webster. As I peered out the window toward the ubiquitous liquor store on the corner, I observed a dead body in the doorway from a botched robbery or a drive-by shooting. As the minutes and hours passed, I was struck by my lack of emotional response. It felt like I should be more impacted by seeing a dead body a block from my house. It was disturbing to think I was so desensitized and that I wouldn’t be moved by the loss of life. I didn’t even reflect deeply upon the family and friends this young man had; there was nothing inside me.

During those days, I did have a nascent spiritual practice but it wasn’t that deep yet. At that time, I was also watching a lot of violence in the movies (i.e., Pulp Fiction) and reading about violence in the media daily (newspapers and magazines). Because of my lack of emotional response from the body, I vowed to stop going to movies that contained violence. I wanted to be more sensitive…not de-sensitized. I placed a high bar for this and maintained that commitment for many years to come. People questioned my commitment and didn’t see how that could help my compassion and empathy to grow. But it did. In the ensuing years, my spiritual practice grew and deepened. I became a practitioner and teacher in the Plum Village tradition (a Zen Buddhist path) and today I have more empathy and compassion.

Police Line - Do Not Cross
SOURCE: aclu-ms.org

Twenty-four years later, as I traveled home in my car, I witnessed my second dead body in public. This body lay in the entrance to my place of work – Santa Barbara City College. In the middle of the street. About 100-feet from my office. An intersection I travel through daily. I was not prepared, and I was deeply disturbed. My immediate response was, “FUCK!” — I had to pull over. Call for help. And spend the next 45-minutes sobbing and in tears. Tears of sorrow, anger, frustration, and of memory. The person died as a result of a motorcycle accident. This was very personal for me because I rode a motorcycle daily for 25-years. I stopped riding when my children were young and because friends and acquaintances kept ending up in the hospital or ended up being dead. This death feels so pointless and preventable. Yes, I know people die everyday. Yes, I know that riding a motorcycle doesn’t always mean death. And yet, I know that by not-riding anymore I reduce the probability of being killed in that manner.

My tears today are for the person who died, for the family and friends of that person, for each person who had to witness the accident or the body, and for myself. This year has been very difficult for me and death has often been present in my consciousness. As the late fall and early winter begins, my difficulties have eased but the incident today leaves me raw and sensitive. And so I write to share, to explore and to heal.

In America we are so distant from death and dead bodies. Most of us don’t live in a war zone like those in Yemen or Gaza. I also recall the police violence in Ferguson when Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours. Or when my mother-in-law’s Amtrak train was five hours late because a person jumped in front of the train on Thanksgiving weekend. Death and violence are ever present. And at the same time, it is obscured and hidden except in cases of public violence on American streets.

On an intellectual level, I understand police work. The need to investigate and not touch a crime scene. But on an emotional and human level, it feels so wrong to leave a dead body laying in the street. So inhumane. I certainly don’t have the answers and this writing exercise serves to help me process and explore the emotional landscape that came jarringly into my consciousness 12-hours ago. I do know that we should be disrupted and disturbed when we see a dead body. We should be reminded that a life has ended. We should draw our attention to the family and friends. To send love, compassion, and empathy. And when something could have been prevented, work toward finding solutions that prevent it from occurring again.

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Frog Warriors

By on March 1, 2012

I'm stepping out of my comfort zone by choosing to join a small group of men for eight gatherings over the next four months. I've done a great deal of group work over the last twenty years, but this one already feels different. It's not a Buddhist group. It's not a 12-step group. Most importantly, I'm not the leader. We will gather to look into our manhood, to learn from each other, and to build community.

Even though I've lived in Ojai for seven years, I've not taken the opportunity to create a community of my own. It's a small town and I know many people, but I tend to honor my introvert self and stay home with my family or do things on my own. I met the eight men last night for the first time. I knew only one person, and even him I only know on a very casual level. What I discovered in two hours was a group of very kind men who want to explore something different and build community.

Let the adventure begin. Open heart. Open mind.

#miscjoy #ojai #family

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Sustained Practice and Well Being

By on April 5, 2008

Over the past seven years, I have spent many days/nights at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, but usually it is for a weekend or even just a day. On two occasions our family have spent 3-weeks at the monastery (once at Deer Park and once at Plum Village in France). These times are always nourishing and provide a nice time away from our regular environment. After our last long visit, in January, the children both said they’d like to stay longer the next time we visit. And though we only spent this past week at Deer Park, it was better than no time, and the children loved the visit especially since the Abbot Thay Phap Dung was available to play silly games with them.

The first question people often ask us about time at the monastery is – what do you do there? What about the children? My best response is that we participate in the activities of the monastery as best we can. For things like sitting meditation, dharma talks (teachings) and dharma discussion, Leslie and I must take turns. Aside from that, we join the community in eating together, cooking together, walking together, playing together, and working together. It is a time to slow down. How often can you take 45-60 minutes for every meal? How often can you take a 45-minute walk in the middle of the day with friends? Or, to sit and have tea for two hours in the afternoon while the children play? (more…)