My laptop is heavier than normal. My breath even heavier. My heart burdened by what feels like a responsibility to say something yet anguished to mutter a single syllable. My fingers poised but frozen.

“How’s your day?” the barista asks. I paused, dumfounded. I couldn’t understand the commonplace banter of commerce. I kept my sunglasses on, my eyes red and swollen.

“Use your platform” my friend instructs. My words are my platform. I have none.

I face an eight hour drive. I turn off the news repeatedly.

A few years ago I sat in a gay bar in the Castro, Twin Peaks Tavern, that claims they were “the first gay bar in the nation to feature full-length, open plate glass windows that let it’s patrons look out, and more importantly, the public look in.” I was proud to be there and I wondered if after a while I could feel what it was like to emerge from suppression. I wanted to be part of the experience, to relate in solidarity with my fellow humans. As the bartender explained how proud people were to no longer be hidden I wondered if Harvey Milk had sat in my booth, knowing we weren’t yet ( or ever ) totally safe.

The President addressed the nation. The twelfth such address of his presidency. I waited in the Best Buy parking lot to listen because by then I realized the world hadn’t stopped even though mine had. I hadn’t thought about the glass windows at Twin Peaks until The President referred to the gay nightclub as a “place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights”.

“Raise awareness”. “Advocate for their civil rights”. Words spoken from the most powerful podium in the world, from our black President.  These are sacred times.

The President explained in a single sentence what I’d struggled to understand for years.

The world has seen 672 official acts of terror so far this year. For the families of the victims, President Obama called on us to “pray that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable” and I drove for a long time wondering how we do that. It’s harder when it’s us, easier when it’s them.

Us and them. Therein lies the problem.

“We must stay united in grief” someone said on the radio. With a number like 672 those simple words are nearly impossible to live and the suggestion that we “stay” united suggests we already are and I’m not so sure.

“Somebody has to control these mad dogs” another friend wrote. I wondered who he was talking about. Gun owners? Islamic extremists? The LGBT community? Congress?

I decided he meant all of us.

The President reminded us “to actively do nothing is a decision.” I drove for the rest of the day thinking about the mad dogs in me and wondering what I could actively do to control them. I don’t know where Islamabad is. The troubles of these great times are larger than I know how to handle. But I can begin at home, deep in me. The mad dogs in me that hinder my growth, that slow down my ability to extend compassion, the ones that cause me and the world more suffering, I can work on taming those.

It’s easier for us to think other people’s mad dogs are bigger or worse than our own but it’s not true. Little mad dogs untamed simply grow up.

It’s the simplest things, left unchecked, that get us. Turning away from someone in need. Gossiping, not practicing right speech. Grabbing more for ourselves, not sharing. Lies of omission. Cheating. Every morning at the traffic light. Ranking people as less, or greater than. Consuming without a thought about resources. Disregard for our spiritual connections. Judging, judging, judging.

These small, seemingly innocent acts of terror build until they burst out and hurt everyone.

So. Here we are.
How do we do what’s been asked of us?
How do we act?
Where do we begin?

I wrote a piece a while ago called “this is the work” and I pulled it out again because taming mad dogs is work and this is where I am going to start.

-This is the work-

I set out to craft a version of the Metta Sutta that I could use and understand and practice, like a prayer or mantra that I can chew on in the middle of my days, something to remind me to get off my ass and serve the world. I call it “this is the work” and it’s a mixture of bits and parts of numerous interpretations as well as my own, flawed to be sure but effective for me none the less:

This is the work

When I am skilled, peaceful and seek the good in all, I will:
Strive to be able and upright, straightforward, of gentle speech, and not overly proud.
Be content, easily supported, unburdened, my spirit calm and sound.
Seek the wise, not arrogant, and will live without desire.

When I am skilled, peaceful and see the good in all, I will:
Work for all beings to be happy, for all beings to live in safety and joy.
Wish for all living beings, whether weak or strong, medium or short, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, to be happy.
Strive for transparency and truthfulness while dispelling anger and hatred wherever possible.

When I am skilled, peaceful and see the good in all, I will:
Cultivate a boundless heart and cherish all living beings, sharing over the whole world my unobstructed loving-kindness.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all my waking hours, may I remain mindful of my heart and this way of living that is conscious and complete.

This is the work. 

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