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Fortitude 

"It is a miserable state of mind, to have few things to desire, and many things to fear." --from "Of Empire," Francis Bacon

I used to have a pretty nice job out in the Park. I had to commute every morning in that I-40 Bumper Car Nationals known as rush hour. And I hated it. I've been told it's because I'm a competitive person and I was losing. I tend to believe it's because I'm a rule follower, and it freaks me out when people break the rules. Have you ever been out there at 8:34 a.m.? People passing at 80 mph in the emergency lane, drivers doing that "fishtail" thing two inches in front of your bumper to let you know you're slowing them down. In any case, I had to start listening to relaxation tapes on the drive so that I wouldn't have a "rage" episode. I left the cushy job and sold the relaxation tapes at a yard sale; then Bush was elected. I regret the sale.

As I think many of us expected, we as a nation are again pursuing Empire ever since Bush sat his tush in that chair in the Oval Office. (The most recent allegation, from Paul O'Neill, corroborated by others from the NSC meetings, that this war against Iraq was in the works long before 9/11, is but one example.) And I've felt, more often than I care to confess, some "rage."

So I started meditating last June. My friend, Michael Soo, a local neurologist who has been studying Dzogchen Buddhism under Lama Surya Das for the past three years, created a local meditation group that meets every other Wednesday. I was looking for a "happy mind," as His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls it. And I found it.

This week, on Jan. 23 and 24, Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within and Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, will be in Durham for a two-day event at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Church on Garrett Road.

On Friday evening, he will lead meditation and chanting, then speak on "The Virtue of Adversity," answering questions after the talk.

("The virtue of adversity" rang a bell, I suspected from my literature survey course of yore, so I Googled the quote and, of course, there it was, Francis Bacon. Yes, the "virtue of adversity, is fortitude." I also reread Bacon's essay "Of Empire," a frightening read when applied to our own standing emperor. But I digress.)

Change, or adversity, explains Surya Das, whether on a large or small scale, can provide our most important opportunities for learning about ourselves and the nature of reality.

On Saturday, Surya Das will lead an all-day retreat, "We Are All Healers: Practices of Buddhist Healing." The Buddhist view is that all "phenomena and experiences are manifestations of causes, gross and subtle, and ultimately linked to the individual experiencing them, and beginning in the mind." Wisdom and compassion are the answers to that which afflicts us personally and individually, and in our community and globally, too. Inner peace, says Surya Das, is like a panacea that can alleviate all of our anxiety, confusion and dis-ease.

I have to confess that, much to my surprise, this meditation practice has been working, a sort of small miracle that's growing. Despite his incessant grabs at power, Bush seems less menacing to me. I believe that our group's work (and others around the world) to be mindful, to call forth peace into these troubled times, is having an effect.

In 2003, both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Bush's visit with the Dalai Lama, the second since his presidency began, was frowned upon by China, but they met anyway! And in Central Park in September 2003, commenting on the war in Iraq to an audience of 50,000, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that the only "real countermeasure for reducing violence and particularly terrorism is to reduce hatred [and promote] human affection."

As our Mr. Bacon reminds us, "If miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity." The Dalai Lama bending Bush's ear? These are miraculous times.

"The Virtue of Adversity," is Friday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF), 4907 Garrett Road. Donation suggested.

"We Are All Healers" is Saturday, Jan. 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at ERUUF. $95. Student rate of $50 available.

To preregister or for more information, contact Michael Soo at mlsoo@mindspring.com or 383-3370.

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