spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

This Blogging Life


Picturemea culpa /frischundsauber
Weebly, thanks for hosting my website, “spiritflowsthru.com.” In October, 2011, my friend Kate taught me how to use you to share my insights online. Before starting a weekly blog posting, I was a worship associate at the San Francisco UU church where I enjoyed thinking, writing, and speaking my “truths” at the lectern.

Posting each week was a goal I set myself. Here I vowed to scour my soul and my immediate world, imagining a reader might find humor or inspiration or something of interest to take away or take to heart. Planning, thinking, and looking at the world with this intention to publish each week helped me pay attention.

Despite intending to come from my own life, I sometimes worried that nothing interesting had happened or I had no original insights in a particular week and rather than skip a week, I got help. It wasn’t “wrong” to rely for ideas on sources outside myself. It wasn’t “wrong” to quote a Rumi poem, even if it did fill space. On occasion I paraphrased bloggers and thinkers who carried intellectual weight, especially Tara Brach and Pema Chodron. There was never anything unethical about citing others as long as I made clear what was original and what needed to be cited. And luckily, Kate could read me with unerring accuracy. She helped me come out from behind another’s insights.

However, having now a sincere commitment to learning and living the Buddhist precepts about an ethical life, especially the first two precepts – cause no harm and don’t take what isn’t freely given – I have turned my attention to living an ethical blogging life. So dear Weebly, I admit that sometimes I have used your blank expanse to share a story that wasn’t freely given, and the slant I took in its retelling may have hurt the people in it. 

A recent influence that has prompted this mea culpa, in addition to Buddhist precepts , is the eleventh episode of “Orange is the New Black” a series on Netflix. I was touched when I saw what happened because someone took what wasn’t freely given and caused harm. By the time I had gobbled up episodes one thru ten, I knew Piper had been in prison for a while, but I also knew that shortly after she entered prison to serve her 15-month sentence, she had shared with her fiancé anecdotes about some of the inmates in Litchfield Prison. However during episode 11, he retold them on NPR in an attempt to advance his career as a writer with something to say; his humorous disclosures hurt the feelings of the women in those stories. And by the eleventh episode, Piper had developed empathy for many of her sister inmates. Sadly, the pain her stories caused when they were retold could not be undone and that pain would have repercussions.

Her fiancé’s on-air retelling of Piper’s first reactions to her incarcerated sisters is hardly the series’ most gripping portrayal of the dehumanization these women faced in Litchfield Prison, mostly at the hands (and other parts) of the mainly male establishment. However, I did identify with Piper’s fiancé’s desire to get attention, to be perceived as interesting by sharing Piper’s prison anecdotes, to get attention and maybe published. I won’t say more about Piper and Litchfield Prison as that would be unfair.

So it is probably a wiser course to complete my confession about honesty and causing no harm with reference to the Buddhist precept of “not taking what’s not freely given.” I have been told that the ethical value of the precepts is less about being taken as commandments and more about being understood as an invitation to be mindful about how I go about in the world. As for thieving, I am not likely to go into Macy’s and try to come out with a pair of socks I didn’t pay for. I did that once and it was so easy, I turned around and put back the socks. But that was very long ago. More recently, in addition to sharing stories in my blog, I have talked about others who did not give me permission, always aware that in those instances people listened, and I liked being the center of attention.

In conclusion, dear Weebly and readers, I will continue to be aware of honest attribution, of being honest about my limited perspective and of causing no harm as I tell my “truth.” Perhaps someday when I write fiction, I will create characters who won’t mind being talked about as well as characters who do mind very much but find interesting methods of retribution. Meanwhile I will watch “Orange is the New Black” and continue here with you.

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