Sunday, August 31, 2008

There's Not Really A Huge Hurricane! It's a Republican Trick!

Let's pretend that we're idiots, like the ones who think the moon landing was all a government ruse, or those who deny that there was ever a Holocaust. Just for some diversion and perspective, and with all full apologies to those who are about to be decimated by this storm, and to all of us who are going to experience the fall-out as our economy continues to plummet as a result, I'm going to pretend that Hurricane Gustav is just a propaganda tool.

This is not funny, but just imagine for a minute: As soon as they realized it was a Category 2 or 3 that would miss NOLA, they decided to shorten the convention, get Fox News to report that it still might be a Huge Direct Hit, get Mayor Nagin to predict it would be "the mother of all storms" and get Sarah, John, George and Dick to swing into conspicuous action to forge a memory in people's minds of how well they handled "The Hurricane" the levees funded under Chertoff's watch did hold....(and luckily, people tend to confuse details after awhile)....Let's say the evacuation is the result of a careful strategy of public deception and over-eager media cooperation to avoid/curtail an embarrassing Republican convention, where most seats would have been empty anyway. And this way, we get Sarah Palin tousel-haired in rolled-up shirtsleeves, pencil behind her ear, baby and grandbaby and whatever-baby offstage, and everybody else six sheets to the wind.

How lucky could the Republicans be!? It's as if they've invented it. The focus is way off the ditsy V.P. pick, and way on Washington's (i.e: John and Sarah's) response. Poor Cindy! Well, Cindy will never be poor, but it can't be easy for her, watching John and Sarah these days, while they have their fifteen minutes as a Power Couple. Are people this lucky? This smart? This dumb? Have the Republicans thrown everything up in the air, with a devil-may-care attitude? Is it a comedy or a tragedy? Time will tell.

ED NOTE: Checking out the news, hmmm...maybe this is not really so idiotic after all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shaking Off the Fugue State-(and Sarah Palin as a young TV anchor)

India is just a gentle memory now that I've been home a month. Every molecule had been stressed and altered and I went into coccoon status for weeks. I'm no butterfly, just a strange old bird who is getting back to normal. Travelling requires stamina!

How did Hillary do what she did, past 60 years old- endless campaigning for months on end? How does John McCain do it? They don't look like they spend hours a day on treadmills, but maybe they do. Why don't we see more signs of utter exhaustion? Or is the Palin nomination a signal of exhaustion, combat fatigue, post-traumatic-stress disorder? There's no way it's a calculated and brilliant move. I know how hard it's been to regain my footing and my judgement, and to really "get back" from India. And it's becoming more and more clear to me that John McCain still hasn't "gotten back" from Vietnam.

I mean, this girl is nice, but, a heart-beat away from the Presidency? Here's Sarah Palin as a young news anchor. Ten to one you won't be able to last the whole four minutes:


Touch of insomnia tonight. Remembering Santo and Johnny in 1959, and that era. It was all so simple. Just come and sleepwalk with me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How old do you think that tree is?




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Outside our tent, on the rooftop of the world, I try to blend in...not too successfully.



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Women's Self-Help Group part 2

Why didn't I at least wear a skirt while trying to blend in? Hindsight is painful!



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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Facing Down Post-Trip Depression: This Too Will Pass

I know what depression is. I recognize it, like an old friend knocking at the door who wants to move in for a month or two. So I do something about it. Give up sugar, start to exercise, talk it out, see the family doctor. At the moment, I would say I'm not depressed, but some warning signs are creeping in. What the hell, I am thinking of my summer trip to Ladakh. I am reading a great book about the general area I visited last month. I'm back at work, as the school year is starting and I'm trying to rev up the engines. I'm pretty broke, having forgotten to make deposits, and behind on my bills, mostly because I haven't cared enough to open the mail in weeks. I've got a sneaking suspicion that all my adult children are not 100% as content as I want them to be. So why not? Of course I would be feeling a little low now and then. There's nothing wrong with that. One thing I know for sure. As the sun rises and sets, as the tides of the ocean, and the cycles of nature, ebb and flow: This too will pass.

But it's fine! I have learned that temporarily adapting a mildly depressive mood is an excellent way to deal with stress. It's like walking a tightrope. You can't get too into it, or you'll go over the edge into self-pity and despair. But if you carry your balancing stick, whatever it may be, you can walk that tightrope of stress and disappointment and keep yourself upright. Although it's occasionally (no, rarely) an appealing thought to imagine just giving up, succumbing, becoming so damn sick that other people have to take care of you, and that all decisions and responsibilities are lifted from your shoulders, it's certainly preferable to make it to the other side of the tightrope, and stand victorious above the safety net and the (imaginary) applauding crowds in this big old circus tent of ours, the world.

It's not like the old days, when we could sprain an ankle or have a case of "nerves" or cough a bit of blood lightly into a handkerchief, and be sent off to a beautiful sanitorium with a bottle of laudanum...I always loved when the heroine in a book contracted TB and had to retire to the mountains, overlooking Lake Como perhaps, sitting in peace for months with a blanket on the lap and a porcelain and silver tea service on a tray.......those days are gone.

Out of curiosity I googled "post travel depression" and checked in at this very curious (slightly idiotic, but well-meaning) entry on the curious and curioser Wikipedia:

Post vacation blues (or just vacation blues) or less commonly, post travel depression (PTD) is a type of mood that persons returning home from a long trip (usually a vacation) may experience.

A person may suffer from post vacation blues after returning home or to a normal routine from a long vacation, especially if it was a pleasurable one. The longer a trip lasts, the more intense the post vacation blues may be. This is because the person would be longing for their travel experiences. Post vacation blues may result in tiredness, loss of apetite, strong feelings of nostalgia, and in some cases, depression. Jet lag may intensify the post vacation blues.

In general, post vacation blues wear off after time. It usually takes a few days for the mood to wear off, although in some cases, it can take up to 1.5 times the length of the trip. Other ways of treating post vacation blues are for the person to share their experiences with family and friends, or to look at photo and souvenirs.

I say that this entry is slightly idiotic because I know that the person who wrote it has never been to India. If you go to India you are not going to recover your wits in 1.5 times the length of the trip. I've shirked, oppositionally-defiant, when people say "India is life-changing!" I don't like that. It's not even life-changing, that phrase doesn't cut it. It's ineffable. It reduces you to a shambles. It takes your breath away. It helps you understand so much. It',,'s just life. And if you're lucky enough to experience it in a positive light, just count your blessings and try to keep your balance.

Now I want to go to Cuba for Christmas. Before it's too late, while it's still interesting, before the atmosphere changes too much, while the arts are innocent and the air is shadowy and yet freshly invigorated.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bat in the Bedroom! Terror and Helplessness

Hadn't slept well for a few nights. The window air conditioner was making funny hissing squeaking noises. The other night I woke, opened the door of my dark bedroom and stepped into the bright white tile bathroom, where the light is always on. As usual, I tried not to become too wide awake, keeping my eyes half-closed. Oh but I woke up alright, to a hellish racket above me. There was a very big black bat flopping around and trying to gain a foothold on the slippery shower curtain. At first glance, which lasted a millionth of a second, I saw a huge wingspan, and thought it was a big bird, (maybe a hawk!), but there was an eerie slippery rubbery seal-like floppiness to him, and I knew it was one of my worst fears come true.

Childhood stories coursed through my brain, of bats getting stuck in people's hair and biting people's heads in rabid frenzies. In utter terror I covered my head and reached down to grab the bathroom rug for a shield. I slouched back into the bedroom, where I sat in terror for hours. For awhile I had a stroke-level splitting headache. The bat incident started at 1:30 AM and I was alone in the house. I remembered most horribly that bats can slide through the tiniest spaces. I really worked myself into a panic. I stuffed shirts under the door and into the cracks. I read Three Cups of Tea. I survived til the morning.

In the morning, my sons-in-law offered to help, but there's not much you can do in the daytime to find a bat. I set up zones in the house by closing off doors. I knew the bat was in the front rooms. So I waited til dusk, turned on lights inside, lit incense,put a scarf on my head like a babushka, grabbed my granddaughter's little broom, sweeping end up in front of my face for protection, and sat on the front porch for an hour at dusk with the front door open. I wanted to see that thing leave the house with my own eyes! I was afraid my son-in-law, if he helped, would just say the bat was gone, like two years ago when he said the five foot snake in the downstairs bathroom (after some construction work) was gone, but I think he makes that stuff up sometimes. (I love him dearly but I never saw the snake with my own eyes, so I've always had a sliver of doubt.) Well, he loves these creatures and sets them free, hoping that they're not too scared. I on the other hand just want them GONE.

So low and behold, my son-in-law comes over at nightfall and goes upstairs with a towel and catches the bat, just like that! In about one minute. He brought him downstairs saying "I hope I didn't hurt him. Look how cute he is." And, as miracles will never cease, I found myself looking into this tiny little bat's frightened face, it's two upright little ears about half an inch apart, swaddled in a towel in my son-in-laws loving arms.

The thought that the bat was probably in the bedroom with me for a few nights, having squeezed through one of the many gaps around the old air conditioner, has set me into a state not easily remedied. Some people laugh this stuff off. I am scanning various body parts for evidence of bites. I am researching rabies. But I'm not getting too worked up. In fact I'm hoping the little guy is ok. And I'm singing that old Carly Simon song from the Caribbean, which my son reminded me of:

"I went down to the kitchen
feeling a little spaced
fixing myself a little snack
When a bat fly in me face.
Fly in me face.
Fly in me face.
Everybody get a little upset
when a bat fly in de face"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Growing Older: Coming Up Roses, Most of the Time

I think in general, as you can tell, I'm adapting well to the process of growing old. I'm giving it my best shot anyway. Love and money would have helped, but it is what it is, I've done well enough. But there's a flip side to everything, and a sure-enough flip side to the joys of aging.

For instance, today I went to the medical imaging place bright and early to get an ultrasound scan of my thyroid gland. I do it every ten years or so, nothing critical or urgent. A friend texted me and asked what I was doing and I texted:

Me: I am flat on my back at the imaging place having an ultrasound. (At that moment the technician was out of the room so I, ever the rebel at heart, had no compunctions about using my cell phone, which was supposed to be off.)

He: "So what is the illness or injury du jour?" (We have an ongoing riff about me having hypochondriachal tendencies, despite the authenticated TMJ problems I've had this summer.)

Me: I'm still on the table in a dark room. The technician says I have to wait because he wants to check this with the doctor. I will probably be airlifted out of here.

He: Do they airlift to Ancora? (the local psychiatric hospital)

So yes, there's a downside, like being alone and semi-afraid during medical tests, and relying on text messages to cheer you.

In this case, all was fine and I really don't mind going alone, God knows I'm used to it. When my kids were young I didn't believe in babysitters, my husband was seldom around since he was a commercial fisherman, so I had to take all five of the kids along to things like this, and hope for the best outcome in the waiting room. I remember having a tooth filled while nursing a baby, and also driving eight hours with five kids, a dog and a cat, nursing baby and changing diapers as I drove, (Brittney Spears hasn't got a clue how bad it can get!)so I am after all, pretty independent.

So when the little jibs and jabs of aging start to get you, don't fret. My dear dear, oh God, SO dear father, doctor extraordinaire, used to say "Have a drink." "Take a little Prozac." "Don't worry about it." He hurt his index finger when he was nearly eighty, the first digit just sort of hung there, so that if he was pointing at something, most of his finger was doing the job but the fingernail joint was pointing at the floor. I used to say "Why don't you get that fixed?" And he and his wife Marilyn, a retired nurse with a great sense of humor and life, would say "Oh at our age we don't worry about stuff like that." I would say "But the Queen Mother got a hip replacement in her nineties!"...and they would say "That's great! But that is not for us." And anyway, he didn't want to have to stop taking his Coumadin blood thinner, because if he had the finger repaired while taking a blood thinner, little things like that can make you bleed to death. And the blood thinner was keeping his heart going I guess. So there are trade-offs.

Trade-offs, compromises, disappointments, readjustments, bodily dysfunctions, changed energies, new perspectives: all part of the package when you shift away from youth, and eventually from life. It's just the deal. Dear old dad never minded being old, and always said "It beats the alternative." And even there, a door is open. If you must accept the alternative, there is still all that philosophy, religion, and even science and logic, offer us: eternity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Summer Night at the Bandstand in the Park

OK OK I live in the perfect Norman Rockwell town, I'll admit it. A Victorian town right on the seashore, full of gingerbread and all things nice. It's true, it's picture perfect. I love it here.

Personally, however, I've always pooh-poohed Victoriana, and more specifically, "perfect" Victoriana, which we have a lot of. I live in a beautiful old (but ramshackle) farmhouse that's well over a hundred years old, and I'm sure some people would have turned it into A "Victorian Bed and Breakfast" if they could have. Not me, but that's another story.

I have never been too crazy about people getting dressed up in Victorian clothes to entertain the tourists, all that stuff gets on my nerves. I have even always pooh-poohed the Wednesday night concerts in the gazebo in the town park, with Glenn Miller music and all the blue-haired old folks from the nearby retirement home. The concerts seemed forced and touristy, something to be a little embarrassed about.

So tonight when I was out for a walk, experiencing my usual hallucination of being lean and strong and youthful, alone as is my wont, I strolled past the gazebo and was drawn into the park by a beautiful old tune the band was playing, a song my father loved and used to sing to my mother:

"Sweet and lovely,
sweeter than the roses in May.
And she loves me.
There is nothing more I can say."

I walked right into the hordes of blue hairs and sat down at the edge of a picnic bench without so much as a nod to the other people there. I didn't scan the crowd for knights in shining armor. I didn't suck in my stomach. I didn't feel conspicuous. I didn't feel anything much, I just sat down and enjoyed the music. It's a beautiful night, with a cool breeze. There were fanciful strings of lights in the trees. The crowd was not just old people, but families with ice cream cones, babies in strollers, beach towels folded neatly underneath. I tapped my foot to the music. I blended in, and didn't mind.

The bandleader had promised "an eclectic evening" and that sort of statement about a long period of time to come always makes me nervous. I cannot stand when a speaker, be it in church, politics or elsewhere, says "and we'll get to that a little later." But instead of being claustrophobic, I stayed. The song selection was eclectic but mostly what you'd expect: marches, quasi-patriotic and romantic songs, Big Band era stuff etc.

And then the boom came down. "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" As much as I didn't mind being an old folk for awhile tonight, the very clear recollection of singing that song happily and confidently with a guy or two when I was young, and the fact that I'm now nearly 62 and it all seems like yesterday, did not sit well. But the melancholy passed quickly as I walked on. The night is still beautiful, and I'm just glad to be alive.

India Daze- Luxurious Rest and Recovery and the Bardo Thodol

I just can’t spring back from my trip- I want to be back in India and actually still am in may ways. I’m in a daze three weeks later, and thank God have been able to succumb to the daze since work doesn’t start again until next week. The first week back I was in a deep miracle-slumber in every molecule and moved around the house in a sylph-like state.

After a few days I went to the vegetable stand near my house for fresh apricots and cilantro, indigenous to Ladakh. After about a week I got the mail out of the mailbox and actually ventured out to the convenience store for milk and coffee. (Real coffee definitely not readily available in Ladakh) After two weeks I went to the big grocery store and got all things that reminded me of Ladakh- good rice, walnuts, barley. Have only tried meat once since India, it's lost its appeal to me for now.

Reading "Tibetan Book of Death and Dying" at Honna's recommendation. I remember the Bardo Thodol from the 60's and variations on it (Leary, Huxley et al) way back then, so it is great to read this version after some forty years.

Reduced to Gibberish

As I look back over my tales of Ladakh, I am astonished at how silly some of it sounds. I kept using words that would have caused my English teachers to cringe: "I" and "me" and "wonderful", "beautiful", "very" ...I can see Miss Hickman now, horrified that I couldn't find better words to describe my trip. From 7th grade through all of my school years, I knew full well that if I used the word "very" my paper would come back with a red pen-mark. "Unnecessary! Find a word that does not need to be further explained with a 'very'" In certain cases a very can be justified, such as when using the vernacular, in conversation: "I am so very tired" has a certain panache.

I seem to talk repeatedly about my "beautiful, wonderful" children, and refer to other people and places and blessings in my life in these terms on a regular basis. But those words don't do justice to my children, to Ladakh, to the education my parents provided me. I could be much more descriptive, I have an excellent vocabulary, but lately I've been reduced to simple words, overwhelmed I guess by the grandeur of life.

One of the hallmarks of an excellent education has always been, in my mind, the overcoming of sentimentality and triteness, the development of higher thinking skills and logic. In recent times, excellent educations are hard to find. Curriculums at even some of the best universities are money-motivated and politically sensitized or geared towards certifications and credentials according to a checklist of courses taught by adjuncts on the make. The development of a broad world view and an understanding of our own place in the larger contexts of civilization, history, art, literature, science, religion, and thought, aren't part of the package anymore. If a young person comes by that type of understanding and is able to break away from solipsistic self-interest, it's not because of receiving a typical education in America, it's because of being fortunate enough to be influenced by someone who remembers what a real education is.

But anyway, I too have fallen by the wayside. Maybe it's just the fact that I'm getting old. I'm starting to feel a new affection for poetry and lace and pretty, old-fashioned flowers in simple arrangements. Give me a few posies and a good book of poetry any old time. I have a heightened predilection for pastels. Give me prettiness and gentleness and let me forget all the complexities of being in the thick of things. I certainly don't need the stimulation anymore of being "out there" - making the scene- in the action du jour. I love hearing about it (absolutely LOVE text messages) and love knowing what's going on, seeing bits of it here and there, but I'm not starved for what's au courant anymore, and that's a relief. I'm even considering disconnecting the TV, what's wrong with radio? I kept TV in the house to a bare minimum when the kids were little, and have never really been too dependent on it. Maybe after the election I'll really do it. the cold settles in? No Evening News? Maybe and then again, maybe not.

The small sentimentalities and simplicities that I am allowing to creep into my life are ok, because they are solidly backed by the education of my youth: Because we used to have to memorize so much in school and Sunday School, my memory can summon up full passages of Shakespeare, Tennyson, Psalms, or I can think about Plato's Allegory of the Cave, as I stroll along a beach promenade. I remember great songs. I love getting older and losing the short-term memory, who needs it anyway?- so full of day-to-day minutiae and crip-crap. I'd just as soon (Grandma's phrase) think lovingly of all the best things I've experienced and learned in life. My family and a few friends are all I need to entertain and interest me in the outside world. I enjoy my job, and will probably stick it out a few more years. So now I am using words like wonderful beautiful and very, even though I know better. And you know- the fact is, sometimes things are trite but true.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bloody Marys and Lunch at The Imperial, in Delhi, To End The Trip

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I think someone in Lonely Planet or one of the guidebooks recommends this stop, and I do thank them. The fragrance of gardenias in the lobby makes it all worthwhile. You might need to use your credit card for this one. And bring a sweater. The standard of luxury in Delhi in the summer apparently includes a very low temperature! The air conditioning is cranked to the max.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Silk Road Bargaining

Earlier that week, in Ladakh, Honna videotaped me (unaware) as I laughed in bed about what shopping victims we were.....well, really just me, Honna tried to stop me.... but I couldn't get the rupee thing straight, and every shop-keeper saw me coming. If something would have cost $20 in the U.S. and $2 in India, then by God I bartered my heart out and ended up paying 800 rupees for it, which is about $20. Oh well, it only hurts when I laugh.

I had to remove the video because it's just too funny, but only to me I think.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A fleeting moment in India

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I wore the same shirt almost every day in India - it washed and dried so easily...shouldn't have packed the other nine!

View from Leh Palace


taken by Honna
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Gratitude for a Dream Come True: Visiting the Tibetan Plateau in not-so-good-shape and when not-so-young

I don't know when it will be that this blog will get in any order. The order of the photos is all messed up, and not all captions came through. But I thank those of you who have waded through and understood something about Ladakh. I should eventually move all the photos off to an make it easier to view.(my sister's always sage advice)

I've just been looking since my return at our photographs of an ineffably beautiful place and the trip that was such a blessing in my life! It was really my lifelong dream come true, to go to the Tibetan Plateau, to be blessed enough to spend time with people there, to drink butter tea in remote villages, to blend in even for a moment in this lifetime with those loved faces by lamplight, and to have the honor of helping in some small ways. I always knew, since seeing photographs in very early childhood, that that was the place for me.

I had given up any hope of this ever happening in this lifetime, and when it did, I figured I'd probably die somewhere along the way, and was even ready to accept that possibility. And so. I am so grateful for the concatenation of people's words and events that allowed this blessing in my life, and for my family's enthusiasm. I will ever grieve Tim Russert's passing, and send love and appreciation to his whole family for his life, but it was the day he died that I bet my bottom dollar and bought my ticket,thinking of a friend's earlier words "We don't know how much time we have left" - and so I thank Tim Russert too.

But most of all I thank my daughter Honna, who encouraged me over and over to come to the remotest parts of India and told me I could do it. She even bought a little oxygen tank to allay my fears!(which I saw that first night in Delhi but never again, and never needed... (I suspect airport officials confiscated it, though she always assured me it was in her bag)... And she cured my killer head-ache mid-trip with her pranic-healing skills and a little dab of codeine! Seriously, I believe, and know, I was in some kind of trouble that night, and I doubt I'd have had the gumption to survive that headache without her being there.

I have so much appreciation and admiration for the work of Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ladakh, and also to Stephen Bezruchka who wrote the very comforting and encouraging pocket-sized book "Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment"- which thank God I didn't need to consult on the trip, but consulted plenty beforehand! And I didn't take altitude meds! I thank my doctor for telling me to just drink water, plenty of water.

Amazing grace! That's what it is- I've been living for the last month in a state of grace, which I humbly acknowledge. Thanks be to God, Alleluia.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week: The Three Types of Suffering

According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It's not passive--it's not empathy alone--but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and lovingkindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is lovingkindness). Let's examine these two elements.

The suffering from which we wish to liberate other sentient beings, according to Buddha's teachings, has three levels. The first level includes the obvious physical and mental sensations of pain and discomfort that we can all easily identify as suffering. This kind of suffering is primarily at the sensory level--unpleasant or painful sensations and feelings. The great Tibetan master Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsan, tutor to the fifth Dalai Lama, reminds us that even animals seek to avoid physical suffering and pain.

The second level of suffering is the suffering of change. Although certain experiences or sensations may seem pleasurable and desirable now, inherent within them is the potential for culminating in an unsatisfactory experience. Another way of saying this is that experiences do not last forever; desirable experiences will eventually be replaced by a neutral experience or an undesirable experience. If it were not the case that desirable experiences are of the nature of change, then, once having a happy experience, we would remain happy forever! In fact, if desirability were intrinsic to an experience, then the longer we remained in contact with it, the happier we would become. However, this is not the case. In fact, often, the more we pursue these experiences, the greater our level of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness becomes.

...But the third level of suffering is the most significant--the pervasive suffering of conditioning. This refers to the very fact of our unenlightened existence, the fact that we are ruled by negative emotions and their underlying root cause, namely our own fundamental ignorance of the nature of reality. Buddhism asserts that as long as we are under the control of this fundamental ignorance, we are suffering; this unenlightened existence is suffering by its very nature.

If we are to cultivate the deepest wisdom, we must understand suffering at its deepest, most pervasive level. In turn, freedom from that level of suffering is true nirvana, true liberation, the true state of cessation. Freedom from the first level of suffering alone--merely being free of unpleasant physical and psychological experiences--is not true cessation of suffering. Freedom from the second level is again not true cessation. However, freedom from the third level of suffering--being completely free from the very source of suffering--that is genuine cessation, genuine liberation.

--from Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated & edited by Geshe Thupten Jinpa