Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Karma, Waves and Josh

I've been doing a lot of reading on mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism as evidenced by the books read in January 2017:
  1.  Looking At Mindfulness: Twenty-Five Paintings to Change the Way You Live by Christophe Andre translated by Trista Selous (2011)
  2. Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate: A Practical Guide to Enhanced Focus and Lasting Happiness in a World of Distractions by David Michie (2014)
  3. Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World by David Michie (2004)
  4. Train Your Mind Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Susan Begley (2007)
  5. A Buddhist Grief Observed by Guy Newland (2016)
  6. Buddhism Without Beliefs: Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor (1997)
  7. Re-read Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle (2003)
  8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
Karma is a concept from the Buddhist tradition that I've been mulling over in my head for a while. In fact, my daughter gave me a "karma" necklace that rarely comes off - a thin, almost non-descript strand with three small gold rings. The message: "as with these circles, we are all connected...what goes around, come around. you live what you give so remember to keep the circle positive, peaceful and loving."

We joke that our dog Benji was a grumpy old man in a former life and since his karma is not changing, he may come back as a snail or bug. 

What goes around, comes around
You reap what you sow
The law of cause and effect

In Buddhism for Busy People, David Michie learns from his teacher that"karma" is translated from Sanskrit as "action". That with each action, including thought and speech, comes a consequence. It is like planting seeds: good karma seeds cultivate good consequences and negative karma seeds cultivate negative consequences.....we are the authors of our own destiny. He offers this quote from the Buddha in Dharmapada:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and ways with care,
And let it spring from love born out of concern for all living beings.....
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think so we become.

But how does this answer the haunting question - why do bad things happen to good people?  Or said another way, why do bad things happen to those who plant good karma seeds and good things happen to those who plant bad karma seeds?

According to Michie, Buddhism's answer is that we should look not just to circumstances in this life; in fact, "a seed that may have been planted two lifetimes ago can ripen to produce an effect which may have no bearing at all on our current behavior." In other words, negative karma seeds planted in former lives may come to fruition in the present life. So at the end of the day, karma says that one always gets what one deserves.

So did Josh have some horrible karmic debt from another life that had to be paid? Even worse, did I.....that he had to atone for? Or as bad, does the action of taking his own life create a karmic debt for future lives?

It is good to know that I am not the only one to find this teaching hard to accept.

In Newland's slim but profound book, A Buddhist Grief Observed, he, who is a Professor of Religion and a practicing Buddhist, questions Buddha's teachings in light of the death of his beloved wife's from cancer.....considering what was helpful, not helpful and why. Similar to C.S. Lewis's grief memoir, A Grief Observed, also written as a way to come to grips with his wife's death and the Christian faith. Consider the epigrams at the beginning of the book:

It is nothing strange that human beings should die.  (The Buddha)

Don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.   (C.S. Lewis)

Newland also struggled with what he calls "strong karma" - the idea that people get what they have coming: "Was Valerie's cancer the moral consequence of some past action? To me, this seems outrageous. There is no evidence for it, and it inflicts more pain on those in pain."

So as a practicing Buddhist, how does he reconcile himself with this fundamental teaching of karma?

Newland agrees that actions matter and directly affects our lives but rather than the traditional metaphor of karma as a seed, he postulates that we should think of our actions as waves, impacted by other waves, outside our control:

A choice, an action, is like a wave in a field of energy, a ripple in a pond. It affects the next moment of our mind; it affects other people; it affects the world at large....Our choices are one set of waves in a vast, churning sea....Sometimes we get rocked by the wake of another boat. It's a fact that we all get whacked by forces we did not set up....So our choices matter and cocreate the future, but they are not always the main causes of what happens to us....What we do makes a difference, but it does not uniquely determine our future; no one has that much control.

This analogy makes more sense.  Just as his wife's unexpected force was breast cancer, diagnosed and successfully treated in 2004, but back with a vengeance eight years later, moving through out her whole body, eventually killing her, so Josh's unexpected force was undiagnosed and untreated depression, a cancer of the mind that overcame him as well. 

Definitive answers about karma are unknown. What I do know is that Josh is gone and nothing we do can bring him back.  But we can honor his life by working to prevent other teens from getting to such point of anguish and despair they do not see a way out. By working to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.

If there is a karmic debt, hopefully the work of the Josh Anderson Foundation can pay it off.

RIP Josh

Monday, January 16, 2017

25th Birthday - January 16, 2017

Happy 25th Birthday Josh! It has been a long time since I've written on your blog - the last post was April 2016.

Today was Martin Luther King Jr. Day which meant that I had the day off - very fortuitous as the motivation to sit, concentrate and work was non-existent.

I went to the store near your park hoping to buy a 25th Birthday balloon but no such luck. But as the woman was blowing up the balloons I did choose, and saw me grab a bouquet of red roses, I wondered if she wondered who the balloons/flowers were for, and why the two incongruent balloon messages. She didn't ask and I didn't volunteer.

It was cold and blustery at the park, so after securing your balloons and scattering rose petals, it took a while to get a picture in which the balloons were legible - my fingers were numb when I got back in the car. Once thawed, I sat and wrote my weekly (most times) letter to you....a small section shared below:

I am grateful for your life, Josh, and in a weird way - never thought I would say this - for your death. JOLT - like being hit by lightening bolt....SHOCK - like those pads on chest that shock the heart to beating again. Your death put me on a journey...on a awareness and awakening. Why does it take tragedy or crisis to wake up? Why take tremendous suffering to become a seeker?  

I feel there is something I should be doing with this life but don't know what. And running out of time at 55 years old. What am I supposed to be doing?  Show me.  
After the park, I went to see a movie that he would've wanted to see....Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie which was surprisingly good. Gillian is working in China now (time difference is 13 hours ahead) so when we FaceTimed yesterday, it was already January 16th and she was feeling sad. I mentioned the idea of seeing the movie which she did as well. So if Josh was hanging around us, he saw it twice - at the Tysons Mall in Virginia and in Guangzhou, China.

Throughout the day, I received texts from friends/family as well as from Josh's friends.  It has been almost 8 years and he is still remembered by his friends who are all now mature adults, moving forward in their lives and taking Josh with them. This thought brings much comfort.

Posting this picture on Facebook brought more comments - it still surprises me how connected we can be through social media. Which reminds me of the awful day and how most people found out - it was via Facebook and text messages on phones. By the time school let out mid-afternoon, all of his friends knew - many of them came to our home as soon as they could.

But as connected as we are, and even more so now with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, imessage, FaceTime, wechat and who know what else is out there or will be invented, why are kids still taking their lives?  Josh had many friend's numbers in his phone - why didn't he or couldn't he reach out?

I will end this post with one quote from a dear friend we knew while living in Australia.  She never knew Josh as we were back in the US when he was born, but she is a mom so knows.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

RIP Josh
Love Mom xxxooo