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Friday, November 26, 2010

Irony.

James: I know karma doesn't necessarily work this way, but this sure is ironic:

Bernard Matthews, known in Britain as the 'turkey tycoon,' died on Thursday [Thanksgiving, when many Americans eat turkey and give thanks for things in their life] at the age of 80, his company said. "He is the man who effectively put turkey on the plates of everyday working families."

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Altar 2.0

I've finally got the altar up at our new house. I've been wanting a Chinese style altar table for some time as I really like the designs. Plus, at the old place the altar was sitting on our entertainment center. So, it was a bit cramped. I also like that this altar has a little storage space inside; behind a set of small doors in the front of it. You can kind of see them with the knobs in this picture. They slide back and forth, and there is surprisingly more room in it then you might think form looking at the outside.

So, that gives me all the room I need to store my incense, candles and other Dharma items. The Buddha is a new addition as well. I wanted one that looked a bit more Indian in design. I just like that style of depicting the Tathagata.

Then I've got my traditional picture of my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh on the altar with a stalk of bamboo, a bowl for incense, a Tibetan singing bowl and a rock candle holder. It's nice to have the altar unpacked and sitting in the new home. It brings a nice energy to the place. Anyway, boring post but I thought some might be interested in where I meditate. Bowing.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Surviving Imprisonment as a Buddhist.

As the echoes of the "Saffron Revolution" in Burma continue to reverberate, I have often contemplated the humble monks living in a very real "Hell Realm" of unjust imprisonment. Along with other Buddhists living in prison. One doesn't have to look very far in this world to find the "Hell Realm."

Nor does one necessarily need to believe in a metaphysical "Hell Realm" to experience the concept rattling your fragile sense of identity. For these Buddhist in prison, however, their "Hell Realm" is an all too real cage of steel and razor wire that echoes with the sounds of pure suffering.

My nights have found me haunted by the imagery of such a place; and what it does to these innocent, peaceful monks and others. So, I decided to put my university degree to work and do some research into how monks (and others), who have been released or escaped imprisonment dealt with their "Hell Realm" without becoming bitter, angry, broken spirits. What I discovered in my sleuthing not only humbled and impressed me but gave me insight into dealing with my own demons and hellish suffering.

Prison does not seem like a place conducive to any kind of Buddhist practice. It's chaotic, violent, loud and uncaring. However, something interesting happened with these people who were thrown down into the pit of despair. They were not only able to practice in captivity but understand how to live with suffering without letting it consume them. This research has been a project that has sharply focused my view of trials in my life. And just how far the human spirit can endure despite overwhelming odds stacked against it.

I want to speak first about a Buddhist layperson serving time in incarceration. In prison, there are no distractions from suffering. It is all around you. You are forced to learn how to live with your suffering and stay rooted in the now without burning a hole through your view of humanity. Take for example the case of Buddhist inmate Jarvis Jay Masters. Susan Moon relayed the following wisdom in a Shambhala Sun article from Mr. Masters:

“It’s challenging to meditate in prison,” he says, “but it’s also the perfect place. People think they have to get a nice new cushion to be able to meditate. I would be that way, too, if I had the choice. But I’m fortunate not to have a new cushion. I feel the hard floor. This is where life is. Not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow has its way of making time more precious. When you’ve been sentenced to death, you know you don’t have much time. You’re forced to look at what is, right now.”

James: Masters realized that trapping himself inside his mind, fighting in vain to take back his crimes wasn't going to change anything except ensure a deepening of suffering for all involved. Desiring to escape the consequences of his actions wasn't going to help. After all, desire, he says are what got him in trouble in the first place. He had to absorb himself in the moment and find freedom in the Dharma. Again from the Moon piece: "You’re either going to go crazy, or kill yourself—just go dead inside, in your soul if not your body—or find something to sustain you in a spiritual realm. You’ve got to have a way to take care of yourself when things go wrong, when you don’t get any mail or visits, or you start messing with your own head..."

This brings us to the monks. Palden Gyatso spent 33 years in a Chinese prison for being a Tibetan Buddhist monk who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama. Murderers, were set free before prisoners like Gyatso. The suffering he faced makes what most of us endure sound like pleasure. The following quotes about Gyatso come from an article by George Bryson. "His worst experience of all was the time he was under interrogation and a prison guard shoved the electrical cattle prod straight into his mouth. The explosive shock that followed knocked him unconscious."

James: How do you carry on with life after being treated worse than animals for slaughter? Especially the self-torturing question of, "Why me?" Gyatso's Buddhist practice of not clinging to a sense of self (anatta) is what helped him keep from being consumed with a feeling of personal injustice.

"It's not just Tibet. It happened to Jewish people (during the Holocaust), and it's happening all over the world." In this regard, he was far from alone. He was linked to all wrongfully imprisoned people around the globe. This gave him a reason to live -- to help others suffering in prison through meditating on compassion. That is also what aided him to avoid being utterly consumed by rage for his captors. "His torturers simply struck him out of ignorance, he said. The ignorant need our compassion and our help. He holds no lingering animosity toward them. Said Gyatso: "I have no anger toward any human, any Communist Chinese."

In countries like China and Burma, it is common for police, military and prison guards to have taken that job out of fear of being the one oppressed. Plus, it's a job in a society where economic opportunity is rare. The karma from their actions will sting far longer than the whips lashed upon their innocent prisoners. So, for Gyatso to be able to see the fear and weakness in their minds brought about a change in focus that made all the difference in surviving prison not only intact, but spiritually stronger. For Burmese activist, Nay Tin Myint, the turning point to surviving wrongful imprisonment came through not attaching to the limitations of the body. "They put my body in prison, but I decided they could not have my mind" said Myint in an article for The Wall Street Journal.

In conclusion, I can not imagine the suffering that these prisoners face. Nor can I imagine the physical pain they endured, but I am convinced that the Dharma is a powerful tool if we remember to use it. This isn't just something that only well-trained monks are capable of; we're all capable of it as well. Take the example of lay Buddhist meditator, Wang Jianxin of China. The ditch digger survived being buried alive for two hours by controlling his breath through meditation; according to the article from The Daily Mail online by

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, November 19, 2010

"Rebel Buddha" Drawing Results.

This is a second clip from the interview with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche (see another clip here) about his book, "Rebel Buddha." Special thanks to Shambhala for the clip. Being a rebel isn't in contrast with Buddhism, so long as it doesn't bring suffering. The Buddha himself was something of a rebel. I enjoyed how the rinpoche explained too that we must channel that rebellious energy, so that it brings about helpful change rather than painful change.

Now, onto other business; the results are in from the drawing for the "Rebel Buddha" and the hat has spoken. I was over-whelmed by the response to this great book, and so I emailed my contact with Shambhala about setting aside a second copy. I am happy to announce that they approved the second copy!! So, there will be two readers who will get a book. Now, onto the fun stuff. Drum roll, please!!

And the books go to.......

-Jason P. Reagan

-Daniel Bezerra

Jason and Daniel, send me an email with your name and address to: jaymur@gmail.com and I'll get you in contact with Shambhala.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dzogchen Ponlop on an American Buddhism.

Interesting view point from the author of "Rebel Buddha" (see my review of the book by clicking on this sentence) on the possibility and viability of an "American Buddhism." Special thanks to the "Rebel Buddha" blog for the video. This isn't coming from a pop-star, celebrity or a person who tries on the latest, "Buddhist flavor of the month." This is Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. A very respected, world-renowned, Tibetan Buddhist scholar, and one of the highest teachers in the Nyingma lineage. He is also an accomplished Karma Kagyu lineage holder, and abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, which is one of the great monasteries of his lineage.


James: Even if there evolves a mixed-Buddhist lineage in America from the cauldron of melting Buddhist ideas; there will still be a place for the traditional lineages. Zen, Theravada, Tibetan, Pure Land, and the others will always have a strong, undiluted foot-hold here in America. However, it is inevitable as the Rinpoche describes for a specific American Buddhist tradition to form. No one can say what it will look like exactly but the melting is well underway.

I personally am happy right where I am in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. However, I would have to kindly disagree with the notion that Buddhism in Asia is "pure." Buddhism in Vietnam for example is a blend of Mahayana, Theravada and Pure Land Buddhism. Yet, not many people attack it as a bastardization of Buddhism as some say of Buddhism in America.

Culture wise, Tibetan Buddhism is rather particular to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Their cultural traditions are very different from say the traditions of practice in Thailand or Japan for example. Yet, not many say they are a watered down mess of Buddhist ideas. All I am saying is that Buddhism is fluid and subject to change and adjustments like any other phenomena in this ever evolving life-span. Personally, I keep practicing my Soto Zen lineage but delight in the proliferation of ideas merging together in the cauldron of change.

I must admit that It is a bit odd to me that the people who oppose a mixing of traditions to form a unique "American Buddhism" are so resistant to change when Buddha taught that it is inevitable. Why would Buddhism be immune to it? And, why assume that change must be "bad" or "less than" other forms of Buddhism because it's adapting to a new culture -- American culture? Perhaps the traditionalists need to probe their discomfort with such a change and meditate on why it bothers them so much. There is plenty of room for everyone, and not everyone walks the exact same path in Buddhism -- even within the same lineage or tradition. Including the older, established ones such as in Theravada. Even within Theravada (which is arguably the tradition that sticks to uniformity the most) has it's variations.

We all must remember that change isn't necessarily always "bad." That said, an "American Buddhism" won't be for everyone and that's not just fine, it's the way things have to be in a complex, diverse, ever-changing world. If it adheres to the three jewels, the four noble truths, and the eightfold path while teaching compassion, emptiness and the other biggies in Buddhism then I welcome it.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stand up to Mistreatment of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and the Transgendered.

James: I am so proud of of this young man for having the courage to face so many powerful adults at this meeting and standing up for his convictions. It's takes a lot of bravery, and I applaud him for it but it is a sad day when kids have to make this argument because enough adults still don't get it. I refuse to stand-by and watch our young people and fellow adults be discriminated against and bullied until those victims take their own life. No more violence, no more hate. We must stand up to these bullies and tell them that we will no longer tolerate our kids being harassed until they think the last option for them is suicide. This is unacceptable.

Regardless of what you think of homosexuality, it is utterly unconscionable for Buddhists to treat gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people as though they are less than human or vile human beings undeserving of compassion. We are called upon to have compassion for all sentient beings.

Even if you believe homosexuality to be a violation of Buddhists precepts (which I don't) it doesn't give you the right to mistreat those people. Buddha had compassion for all beings regardless of their actions. As for those who find homosexuals to be bad people and perhaps unworthy of fair treatment; Buddha had compassion for all kinds of people. Even murderers, and since homosexuals are far from being in the same category as murderers, then surely respecting the life and well-being of homosexuals shouldn't be up for debate in Buddhist circles.

If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and need someone to talk to who will listen and not judge, then I am here: jaymur-at-gmail-dot-com. There are many people who love you and want to see the best for you. If you are thinking about suicide, please reach out to someone you trust--now. You are strong than you think. I have faced many moments of depression and suicide and know what it's like to want to end your life. Please stay with us, don't give up!! There is a light at the end of every dark tunnel. You are loved--always.

~Peace too all beings~

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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Shifting Sands of Change.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Shifting Sands in the Maowusu Desert in China, by Michael Reynolds/EPA).

I was contemplating today about the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and how quickly change can occur. Day after day, month after month and year after year it seemed that Suu Kyi would be frozen in her house arrest for the rest of her life. Then, over-night the seemingly impossible occurred--she was released into the arms of her joyful supporters. It still remains to be seen what effect this will have on the greater politics of Burma, but for now it is a powerful reminder of impermanence.

The leaders of countries put on a great show of power, strength and dominance with their armies, imposing uniforms and intimidating rhetoric, but the truth is that they are just as subject to change as anyone else. I found a great example of this online. It's a presentation (below) that someone put together showing the futility of clinging to power, or anything for that matter. It shows how many times borders changed hands in Europe over the last 10 centuries.

It is compressed into 5 minutes, which shows how the mind is often tricked into thinking that time seems to drag on when one is enduring a lot of suffering. However, that time passes faster than the speed of light when measured against the life-span of the universe. Dictators come and go but the Dharma will concur all.
~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Released from House Arrest!!

(PHOTO CREDIT: REUTERS)

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's military government freed its archrival, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on Saturday after her latest term of detention expired. Several thousand jubilant supporters streamed to her residence. Suu Kyi has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.


James: You would think that after all the abuse Aung San Suu Kyi has endured at the hands of the military dictatorship in Burma, that she'd be a broken spirit. Yet, she has weathered house arrest extremely well. She even went so far as to say that she has no ill feeling toward those who detained her. How could that be possible? As it turns out she has credited Buddhism with helping her survive house arrest. It seems likely that she was able to put into practice the Buddhist teaching of "no-self" which teaches that there is no unchanging, permanent "self" that exists separate from everything else. We don't have to travel through samsara alone because we are interconnected and interdependent with all people, things and phenomena. Nothing ever exists independent of all other things.

A tree exists because the sun exists. Suu Kyi was only imprisoned materially but since there is no "self" to imprison, she was always connected with her supporters as long as she remained aware of that essence. She could travel above those confining walls in concentrating upon the unbreakable connection with family, friends, teachers and fellow citizens. Thus, rather than sinking into feelings of loneliness and bitterness, Aung San Suu Kyi probably rested secure in being aware that she was never alone. She was interconnected with all Burmese (and the world) and therefore could weather the storm of personal imprisonment with greater ease. Because she understood these teachings it is very likely that she survived her imprisonment better than the junta leaders.

But, you might say, "How are the junta leaders imprisoned?" They are imprisoned by clinging to the delusion of "self." If one believes that there is a permanent "self" that is separate from everything else then anything that maintains the delusion of that "self" is "good" and anything that doesn't is "bad." This creates suffering when the "good" isn't around because the self is attached to the "good" in order for it to feel important. And it creates suffering when the "bad" is around because the drug-addicted self isn't being given what "it" thinks is necessary for happiness.

But it isn't lasting happiness because a dictatorship is based on the delusion that there is a "self" that is perceived to be better than everyone else. But, in order to keep that delusion inflated the "self" must constantly be on alert for threats to its fragile existence. Therefore, in order to keep this elaborate charade going the dictator (self) worries and ruminates with paranoia about losing this delusional sense of "specialness." This creates a lot of suffering inside. The dictators may not show it but they're not happy inside. A person who is at peace doesn't need to go around and control, manipulate, oppress and murder people as the Burmese junta is doing.

So, if Aung San Suu Kyi was able to over-come the quagmire of the the "self" then she was free to be at peace with her situation regardless of the house arrest. Because her sense of worth and happiness wouldn't be dependent upon if the "self" was happy, or even if it existed at all. And, while the dictators remain physically free, emotionally they are in one of the darkest, deepest prisons known to existence in samsara (self-importance). Maintaining that heavy burden of self-importance means wherever you go, your prison travels with you. Yet, Suu Kyi will always be free no matter where you try to lock-away her body. Her example helps us to remember that if she can survive decade after decade of imprisonment by dictators, then surely we can survive our daily lives. May her freedom spark a softening of relations between the junta and the strong and noble people of beautiful Burma.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Plagiarism.

***I am deleting this post because it is causing suffering for some. And, I'm closing the comments section. Goodizen? I understanding that you meant well and weren't trying to plagerize my work. Thank-you for getting back to me. I am working on being less attached to words. It's a fine balance to live in the world but without attachments. Anyway, don't worry anymore. Let's just both breath...and let the confusion and stress fly-off with the wind.***


~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Rebel Buddha" by Dzogchen Ponlop. Unleash the Rebel Within!!

When many of us think of a rebel we think of someone who challenges the status quo because of a feeling of confinement or discomfort with how society is unfolding. Buddhist master Dzogchen Penlop shows us in his book, Rebel Buddha that we all have a rebel within. It is the seed of awakening in our brain that was planted by our karma, which begins to grow and stretch against the confines of the ego-mind. It is our inherent Buddha nature or awakened essence that is reclaiming our mind bit by bit, which is why it's a process, or a practice.

In most Buddhist schools, we aren't relying upon a savior to pull us out of the muddy waters of samsara, (the world) and into the clear light of wakefulness, which infuses into us the ability to live with discomfort without suffering from it. We are aware that no one can do this for us, and that is why it is why its hard work to practice the Dharma. It's not just a matter of saying some prayers and having faith that you'll be saved from suffering:

If you're interested in "meeting the Buddha" and following the spiritual path he described, then there are a few things you should know before you begin. First, Buddhism is primarily a study of mind and a system of training the mind. It is spiritual in nature, not religious. It's goal is self-knowledge, not salvation; freedom, not heaven. It relies on reason and analysis, contemplation and meditation, to transform knowledge about something into knowledge that surpasses understanding. But without your curiosity and questions, there is no path, no journey to be taken, even if you adapt all the forms of the tradition.
James: We know that if we are to free ourselves from our situation that we have to lead the charge of the rebellion ourselves. We already tried putting the fate of our situation into the hands of another only to see it not come to pass, and while there are plenty of people along the route to walk with us and help us for a time; no one can do the final accent but ourselves. And while such an epiphany can be daunting it is refreshing to know that it has been done before; so why not us? We are just as capable of freeing ourselves as anyone else who has gone before us, but only if we have the courage to follow that rebel within.

It is that voice inside our head, which says, "Something is missing in my life. I am no longer satisfied with what the world tells defines as leading a fulfilling life. I am not happy and want to change my circumstances." This is the rebel within that Dzogchen Penlop teaches in this wonderfully timely book because it is going to take rebellion of the spirit to over-come the chaos of modern life:
On the spiritual path, this rebel is the voice of your own awakened mind. It is the sharp, clear, intelligence that resists the status quo of your confusion and suffering. What is this rebel Buddha like? A trouble-maker of heroic proportions. Rebel buddha is the renegade that gets you to switch your allegiance from sleep to the awakened state. This means you have the power to wake up your dreaming self, the impostor that is pretending to be the real you [...] You are the champion of your own freedom. Ultimately, the misson of the rebel buddha is to instigate a revolution of mind.
James: The life of the Buddha was one of rebellion. He rebelled against his father and the luxurious life granted him. He suspected there was more to life than the material pleasure that fulfilled his Earthly needs but left him spiritually hollow inside. He rebelled against the Brahman teachers of his day who told him there was nothing left to discover, spiritually. Still, the rebel inside himself told him that he must push forward, into the unknown. It is the rebels who find freedom because they keep trying to escape their prison of suffering regardless of the set-backs. It is the slaves who simply do not try or assume that there is no point to trying. They are frozen in stone.

All it takes to free oneself from the ropes of doubt that plague them is some wiggling. So, if you have the strength yet to break free once and for all from the confines of suffering then do what you can--wiggle. In other words, take baby steps. Read books like this one, take walks in nature and focus on the details around you. Contemplate on how you are interconnected and benefit from all that beauty around you. Ask and discuss questions that bind you down but don't rely upon any one person too much. Keep searching--always. Don't let others do the thinking for you--question everything.

Let go of expectations. listen to your heart and just be in the moment -- let it all soak into your ropes and soon you will have worked the ropes enough to begin unraveling the emotional bondage. But it takes time. This is the wisdom contained in Rebel Buddha -- So, will you answer the call from your inner-rebel buddha, crying to be unleashed?

The good people at Shambhala have graciously given me an opportunity to giveaway one copy of Rebel Buddha. To make this fair I have decided to draw names from a hat. So, if you're interested, just say so in the comments and I'll include your screen name in the hat. It will be open for a week. So, get your names in by this coming Thursday when I will draw the name of the recipient. Thanks, and good luck!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Depression: A Reality of Samsara.

The last few days have been hard ones. I have chronic depression as some of you know from the bipolar end of my Schizoaffective disorder. When we are depressed and feeling defeated; it's all we can think about. In a sense, it's a denial that things are impermanent, and thus a denial that things will get better at some point. Thus, the depression becomes a downward spiral of self-fulling prophecy.

We aren't bad or to blame for this denial because we wouldn't do it if we honestly didn't believe the delusions the mind is projecting. This is especially true for those who experience biological, chemically induced depression. If the brain is missing a certain volume of chemical then it's bound to run low on batteries at some point. If your car breaks down despite doing your best to keep up with the maintenance; do you blame yourself for it? Of course not, you know that cars break down from time to time--it's the nature of life. Things break down, and at some point no longer work.

So, why can't we feel that way about depression? Well, I think because the habit-mind clings so tightly to this idea that it is permanent and special. So, when something comes along like depression that upsets that sense of comfort, and makes it feel endangered it wallows in misery that it isn't being "pleased." It doesn't feel special anymore and like a two-year old, it's pouting. It wants someone to blame for it's misfortune, and, so it turns on the personality-mind within itself that represents you to the world. The personality-mind is the outward expression of who you are--the collective karma that emanates as "you." It's a projection of our mind like a hologram that is quite sophisticated, and often is mistaken as a separate entity. However, I digress.

The mind gets stuck in a loop of blame because it can't accept the reality that things change. So, if you're going to be thinking anyway; why not contemplate on the depression itself rather than on the effects of the depression. This means first accepting that depression is simply a fact of human existence. It will never be different for the human form because it is at its core, flawed. This isn't our fault but rather just how things evolved. When we accept this truth then we can ease up on ourselves. So, when seen in that light, depression emerges from the behind the dark, menacing clouds of self-hatred and into the illuminating sunshine of awareness that such is the condition of being human.

This is contemplating on depression itself, as a concept that touches everyone. So, this helps me become better aware that we're not being singled out; as depression can often convince us into believing. It helps us step-back from it and see that the depression is a temporary storm but certainly not something that can't be survived. However, when we contemplate upon the of the effects of the depression, and, thus personalize it by thinking we're worthless and useless then we will never feel happy. In addition, the depression will go deeper and last longer--It's assured.

We need to embrace our depression to understand it because withing understanding it we won't be aware of where to make adjustments. It's easy to want to push it away and try to ignore it but that just makes the problems bigger. When a child is sad, do you turn them away or ignore them? Or course not--you cradle them, hold them and ask them to tell you all about it. The same is true of ourselves. We must be compassionate toward ourselves or else how can we be compassionate toward others? Seeing how all is interconnected you can't really have one without the other.

Contemplating upon depression as a symptom of life helps us dislodge that corrosive emotion that tells us we're not good enough. How can we ever be, "good enough" if we think that we suck and everyone else is perfect? Does that make sense? Of course not. So, when we contemplate upon depression itself we realize that rather than being the only person in the world who can't figure life out, we're just like everyone else!! And, just knowing that you're not alone, and that you're experiencing a natural, normal and very common emotion of the human condition helps you survive the dark hours of depression.

However, it's not always that easy to just flip the switch, and some days we just have to lick our wounds and do our best to be kind to ourselves until the storm passes. I know how hard it is to struggle with depression but it's ten times harder when you think you deserve to feel depressed. Or, that you deserve to live a life of unhappiness. We are all destined for liberation regardless of what obstacle is the biggest in on our path. Please, if you are struggling with depression and mental illness know that there are people out there who care and want to help. As for me, my light is always on and my door always open at: jaymur@gmail.com

~Peace to all beings~

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