Sunday, September 16, 2012

Out of Time, Not Chances

Finally with a new job and a new neighborhood settled after an arduous search for both, I turn myself toward the extra things I have been noncommittal towards in my state of flux. Board invitations, freelance projects, volunteer responsibilities, all. It’s an honest juggling act to balance these things with the rest of life. 

My sister, gone from us now almost two years, taught me the true meaning of service. I feel her absence in my life, and the particular absence of that inner richness that only comes from true devoted service to another. But I find myself suddenly weighing all my new commitments against my time, energy and health. I want to add the volunteering and the this and the that—only two or three hours a week, I tell myself. But I fear overextending myself mentally and physically, and struggling with health constraints amid a strict calendar. It’s a dilemma that I have doodled and fawned over for a few weeks before realizing two things:

  • I’m no use to anyone anywhere if I’m worn out, exhausted, sick, cranky, or otherwise spent from trying to do everything.

  • My yearning to serve might be utilized just as well by practicing deeper service to the people already in my life: colleagues, family, friends, neighbors.

Sometimes we have even more stringent boundaries with the people that inhabit our daily lives simply because they are the ones that have direct access to our vulnerabilities and emotions. Offering two hours a week to a stranger is much less daring in some ways than offering deeper attention, less judgement, or more compassion to the people we interact with at home and at work.

There are certainly times in our lives when volunteerism is a health necessity. When we find ourselves with too much time on our hands due to unemployment, illness recovery, or any circumstance that leaves us too often in our own heads and feeling isolated and lonely. That is when we most need to step outside our comfort zone and reach out to folks that are willing to have us simply because they need the extra hand.

Either way there seems an endless supply of chances to serve one another, if we want it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Transgression

originally posted on hedgeword.com, March 2012 

Last week I picked up the original Swedish film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo from my neighborhood library. When the globally-successful books by Stieg Larsson were all the rage, I had pretty much ignored them, as I characteristically tend to do when anything becomes a blowup shooting star like that. (Harry Potter had been out for 8 years before I even looked at it.) But I ran across the tattoo girl in the library and thought, what the heck.

At that point I was only vaguely aware that the narrative centers around a punk-styled young women and that the author had apparently witnessed a gang rape in his youth and had always regretted not doing anything to help, thus resulting in this balls out character Lisbeth Salander.

Within the first fifteen minutes of the film I found myself watching a horrific, graphic, violent rape scene. It was like watching a train wreck the way I couldn’t look away. When the scene was over and I became aware of what I’d just seen and that I felt a full-body nausea, I turned the film off. Period. I returned it to the library as quickly as I could, in some desperate attempt to get the thing out of my house (out of my mind). But my mind reverted to it frequently thereafter, painfully, like a nightmare that you just can’t shake in the morning.

How does employing and exhibiting graphic violence against women in film, aka entertainment, do anything but perpetuate graphic violence against women?

Even the idea of an author glorifying such violence while claiming to oppose it, seems suspect. But reading is not watching. Reading is a particular kind of imaginative experience. But for the filmmakers choices could be made–can be made– about how to include delicate material and the choice in this case was to lavish in the gruesome cruelty of rape and violence.

We as a culture condone this. We condone it and allow it by buying the tickets to the movies, by not thinking twice about what we’ve seen, by not voicing our opposition. Culturally we find it morally unacceptable to include depictions of molestation or rape of children, or necrophilia. These things may be alluded to or danced around but they are not depicted.

So why is it that we sanction violence against women?

I was discussing this with my sister-in-law and she mentioned a segment of a bell hooks documentary, Cultural Criticism and Transformation, where hooks is discussing the brutal murder of Nicole Simpson and the subsequent OJ Simpson trial. hooks brings up the concept of “the spectacle” from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (that I had recently begun reading, and there will be much more on that later), wondering how she could watch the trial and the turning of the real-life murder into bright and shiny media hype or race issue or a class issue or something for people to discuss over their pedicures, without feeling that she was “colluding” in the violence done against this woman, Nicole Simpson.

hooks was asked on Good Morning America to give her response to the trial and all she said was this:

“The only thing I really know about the OJ Simpson case, is that it began and ended with male violence.”

In the short video segment hooks makes a very insightful, eloquently-stated argument. I invite you to watch it.


If we as a society want to live in a present and move into a future where our daughters and neighbors are safe and respected– where human life is sacred and honored–how can we continue to condone the constant advocation of violence against women in our entertainment? We pay for those movie tickets and DVD rentals. We sit around watching those channels. And when these despicable human atrocities are depicted, do we say a word against them? Do we stand up for ourselves and the world we want to live in? Or do we shrug and say, “Well, that’s just how it is.” It is this way because we allow it to be.

There is no benign depiction of violence. Wherever and whenever violence exists at all, it is feeding on itself out in the world, through us. Only we have the power to change that.

5 Ways to Take Responsibility for Your Own Health

originally posted on 365Seeds.com, February 2011


The only real way to begin lowering healthcare costs and incidents of disease (particularly in the US) is for each of us to take responsibility for our own health and the health of our families. It sounds simple, but not so in a Western culture where hospitals, overworked doctors, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies all claim to know what’s best for our health. Sadly, this imbalance can only happen because we are getting increasingly more ill and so evermore willing to hand over the reigns to what is actually rightfully ours: health and well-being. Here are five foundational ways each of us can take back the reigns to our own sustainable health:

1) Sit down.

Meditation not only calms the mind, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, and reduces anxiety, as proven for centuries and recently in scientific testing; but meditation brings us in tune with our bodies and emotions. We begin to feel the subtle changes of a muscle or a mood as we practice meditation, and this becomes a very accurate scale alerting us when something is out of balance. The human body constantly makes changes in order to maintain homeostasis in all the cell and organ systems. When we tune into our bodies and minds, we can decipher the minute signals being sent to us before they become full-blown colds, migraines, tumors, or disease. We begin to act accordingly to help our body in its balancing process, taking stress off of an already overtaxed system. And the underlying benefit is a renewed relationship to our bodies, one that is based on mutual respect, instead of an incessant fear that it will turn against us at any minute in the form of cancer or heart attack.

To meditate: Sit in a quiet place, in a comfortable straight-backed position. Take a few deep breaths, then settle in to following your breath as it moves in and out through your nose. Do this in whatever way seems most comfortable, either just follow the touch of breath on your upper lip, or the rise and fall of your ribcage, or speak a small sound in mind with each inhale and exhale. “So-hum” is a common one. When you have thoughts, that’s fine. Simply notice the thought and go back to following your breath. This is just to get you started; but set a timer for 5 minutes, 10, whatever you can manage. And try it at your desk, on the train, waiting in a line. It’s a practice that takes on many levels over time and the physical benefits are vast.

2) Subtract and Add.

Discontinue eating sugar and pre-packaged foods. All forms of refined sugar are highly disruptive to the human system. When you eat whole fruit, you are getting the appropriate amount of fiber your body needs to deal with the sugar in that fruit. Fruit juice, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, agave, etc,... exclude these from your diet. Remove ready-made foods, frozen meals, boxed foods, and the other 80% of the grocery store that has been prepared by someone else, from your diet. This is a grand start! Begin adding a variety of fresh vegetables and green leafy ones to your meals. Fresh vegetables and greens from your local farmer’s market are the most rich in vitamins and enzymes. Do what you can. Start by picking up a vegetable at the grocery store that you have never cooked before. Make it a fun thing with your children. Who can find the best recipe for this such-and-such? Subtract and add. These simple beginning steps to better nutrition will speak for themselves. I guarantee you will notice the changes. Especially if you’ve been meditating!

3) Write Along.

Begin a food/mood journal. Just grab a notebook and keep it in your kitchen or at the table. Write down what you eat and what kind of mood you are in. Stop back by later and note how you feel, again note your mood. Do this in whatever manner works easiest for you. If you have children, make it a food/mood drawing pad and let everyone express how they feel. Most of our behaviors and choices, especially food behaviors, are ruled by our moods and few of us are in touch enough with ourselves to realize what’s going on. Here is another place meditation will serve you well. After a period of time, say 3- 6 weeks, if not sooner, you will begin to notice certain patterns. These patterns can reveal many things that only you will properly decipher about yourself, but among them will be emotional eating behaviors, allergies and sensitivities, food addictions, fatigue, etc. You may even notice arthritis or rosacea flareups; these are often exacerbated by certain foods. Food addiction may sound remote, but few of us escape this phenomenon. Whatever food you must have every day, that is probably where your addiction lies. Food addictions tend to cause energetic and behavior disruptions that we are completely unaware of because usually we have become so accustomed to them. Food addictions often align with food allergies and sensitivities, and are a worthy indication of something awry in your bodily system, which may herald a larger health problem down the road.

4) Say Maybe to Drugs.

Doctors are often brilliant and astute caretakers, but do not take your doctor’s word as law. Doctors are consultants on your health journey, not the all-knowing Oz. Always look behind the curtain to see what you’re dealing with. Look into the drug they suggest. Look into the surgery. Find out what are the pros and cons from several sources, not just the pharmaceutical company information list or sites that are sponsored by said companies. Hear from folks who have taken it or done it. And look into alternative therapies. “Alternative medicine” is usually something that has been practiced for centuries somewhere else. And more often now, allopathic medicine includes alternative training. Again, talk to people who have tried it for your similar symptoms. You have to do the research. Then you can make a choice you feel confident in, which is empowering. We are more confident in ourselves and our lives when we execute control over our choices. This reality can singularly increase health and wellbeing in each and every one of us.

5) Remember the Good Times.

Recently a frazzled friend sat bemoaning how busy her life had become and that even when she took an occasional day off, she had no idea what to do with herself. She had no idea what she enjoys, what relaxes her, or how to unplug. To some degree we can all relate to this story or know someone we love who fits the bill. It’s a sad happening in a very amped-up, busy culture. Our socio-economic system expects a lot from each of us and we push ahead to meet the mark. At what cost? Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, auto-immune disease, Alzheimer’s; these are a handful of the issues plaguing us and our families. Am I suggesting that disease is related to lack of joy? Yes, I absolutely am. And I am not alone. Stress-management, physical activity, sunshine (vitamin D), happier relationships, stronger communities, mental stimulation-- these are a few of the side-effects of enjoying life. That means doing some of the things you enjoy on a regular basis. Sit down and make a list of five things you enjoy doing. If you can’t think of any, list five things you enjoyed doing once in your life. Then make time in your week to do it. Take a painting class, join a volley ball league, go bowling, take a walk with a friend, join a knitting circle, research a historic topic that gets your blood burbling. Do something to cultivate the innate joy in you. I’ll warn you, this joy is contagious. Your mom will notice. Your spouse will want to hug you. Your kids will want to ask you questions. And not only do enjoyable activities have health benefits, they also help us keep our priorities in perspective. When we are constantly working or dealing with “things” we become trapped in repetitive mind loops and behaviors that have damaging effects on physical and emotional health, and just downright make life less meaningful. And that’s a shame, because every life has meaning.

This list really offers 5 doors. Doors open to you to take responsibility for your health in a way that runs deeper than discussable here. The discovery is endless and real. The body and the heart likes what is behind these doors, I promise. And if you feel discouraged or stuck, that’s to be expected too! Because real change happens over time, not as quickly as we often demand. Some change happens in a blink, sure; other change takes years. Uncontrollable outside factors do exist that affect our health detrimentally, but plenty of tools also exist within our own grasp that we leave unused. Investment of your time and energy in responsible health belongs only to you. Try it. Teach your children to do it. And be well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Picking Back Up

To pick things back up here I'll begin by posting two articles from the last two years that were published elsewhere. Hopefully they'll act as a bridge from then to now. Happy to be back!

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Directions

I'm moving in new writing directions. Farewell to this place, even as it's the root of the next place. Best wishes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Life & Death

RealitySandwich.com just published my article Rethinking Veganism.

You can read it: here.

Joyous, loving holidays to All.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chain of Fools

Driving amid busy Friday afternoon traffic listening to Aretha Franklin belting out the lyrics to Chain of Fools, my mind moved single file from myself, to my mother, my grandmother, her mother, the idea of her mother and so forth, envisioning a long chain of fools; women passing down their attachments, behaviors, and perceptions of the world, for better, and of course for worse.


Part of finding peace and harmony in our inner and outer lives requires the work of sorting through family history, and self in relation to family. Mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. Gender identification is one of our very first mirroring behaviors as developing humans. We are told we are a girl and we understand easily how “girl” likens to “mother” and we proceed to base much of our personality and self-image development on that person. (Or the equivalent substitute.) The progression is natural, naive, and mindless. This is why adolescence is such a second birth. We rip through the canal of childhood into a world of self-consciousness, self-judgement, and usually, self-doubt. The most precocious and confident kids that age tend to be the ones most full of doubt. All the roles are reversed, all the logics turned on their heads. What am I supposed to DO here in this strange place? becomes a real (and often painful) driving question. Traditionally, in many cultures, this is the exact time for rights of passage, both religious and otherwise, acted out by the individual under the guidance of the group or elders. And thankfully so. But our culture these days lacks pervasive ritual with any sincere meaning, leaving these children (and they are still children) leering back and forth in a fast-paced world with the equivalent of a bag over their sweet heads. No wonder this is the precise time so many of us begin to act out against our parents, in particular the parent of identification (i.e. mother to daughter). We don’t want to be anything like them and yet that is a large percentage of how we are in the world. We feel trapped, duped, fooled.


And there is a chain of us stretching back by name, Amy, Jeannie, Doris, Frances,... onward with names I don’t know, some I will never know. Each woman in a different time and place perhaps, but passing down the vestiges of human conditioning, one to the next. It is a duty of love that has swords and nails in its tenderness. Without it we are nothing, with it, we are someone other than ourselves. Fools.


In tarot the fool is the zero card, the ground card, the air card, the all encompassing One. The figure carries a satchel over shoulder and a walking stick, traveling an indistinguishable road with a faithful dog at heel. More often than not the location is at the precipice of a cliff, and more often still, a white rose appears on the scene. The fool is on a journey to self-awareness, the journey of life. He walks and walks, seeking some peace, seeking God, doing all the things he has been conditioned to do so well, never realizing that everything he needs is already with him: a satchel (the reality within us), the stick (material support), a dog (relationship), and the haloed rose (possibility, faith, unexplainable beauty).


So the fool makes mistakes, gets depressed, seeks pleasure in fleeting forms and attachments-- just like his or her ancestors-- but the fool is one with life already, with God called Life, and will begin to find what is sought on the eternal whisper of human breath.


When we begin to see ourselves and our parents (and grandparents, ad infinitum) with such detachment as the breath allows, we begin to enter the space of compassion, forgiveness, unveiling. As important as it is to see ourselves and our behaviors in the context of our family conditioning, it is equally important to then take responsibility for ceasing those which do not serve us in the way of love. Beyond that, all is forgiveness. We must forgive them for being fools. We must forgive ourselves for the foolishness we have been involved in, all the foolish words, foolish and unskilled emotions. And since we will always be a fool, as we are human, no matter how many times we attain enlightenment; our forgiveness must be a practice, like piano or swimming. Practice doesn’t make perfect either. Practice makes us the weak link in a long chain of fools.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dedication

Over a year later, I'd like to note that this blog began in homage to my late grandfather, Joseph Awad, who offered his faith as inspiration to us until his last moment. His devotion to poetry, art and the Divine grows in the world in us.

An excerpt from his book-length poem, The Big Bang:

My world is what I make of it.
I trouble the waters. I make waves,
Widening my circlet bit by bit.
When Love descends, a Fireball,
My circle widens endlessly,
Interlinking with all others,
And like the ring of Love described by Paul,
Encompasses and perfects all.

(p. 23, The Big Bang, Poet's Press, 1999)


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Gift

In the novel Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, Jo finds herself caring for a dying younger sister and surrendering to some selfless unintelligible gift, the elusive gift given by the dying to those sturdy with life.

“Precious and helpful hours for Jo, for now her heart received the teaching that it needed: lessons in patience were so sweetly taught her that she could not fail to learn them; charity for all, the lovely spirit that can forgive and truly forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the hardest easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts undoubtingly.”


The sincere faith. That fears nothing. But trusts beyond doubt.


To be gracious enough to open our hearts that wide, to love that unconditionally in the face of suffering, dying, impossibilities... a gift, and a Mystery.


Jo faces the Mystery only to find her worldly priorities checked:


“...with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister’s life-- uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which ‘smell sweet, and blossom in the dust,’...the true success which is possible to all.”


Then Jo leans in and tends the fire which will warm her sister through the impending night.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Being Love

All this is true. Come!

You who are the Creative Word: Be.

You, so far beyond description.

- Rumi


On his witty, often visionary website, Jonathan Zap tells a story I’d like to paraphrase here.


An older woman is speaking to a college group. After she speaks, a young female student asks the older woman, “What knowledge do you have now that you didn’t have at my age?” The older woman answers,

“When I was your age I was desperately trying to be loved. Now I know that it’s better to be love.”


What does it mean to be love? And if this is an authentic goal, how do we go about practicing it in our lives?


The answer: relationship.


We can only truly fulfill our capacity to be love, in relationship to others. To mother, father, sister, brother, friend, lover, husband, child, neighbor, student, teacher, client... Relationship is the breeding ground for love in all its myriad nuances. When we cut ourselves off from authentic relationship, we can certainly feel love, think about love, decipher its intellectual presence, but we cannot be love. For love arises upon completion of relatable being.


And what about solitude and meditation, which we know to be useful tools toward a fulfilling life? Meditation and contemplation are simply ways of peeling away world to reach the stillness, the so-called Nothing, that makes the existence of Love possible.


Can't one be love in relationship to self? (i.e. hermeticism) One can foster the unique element of love within oneself, but the act of being love-- that requires explicit sharing; requires the CHOICE of relating to (dealing with!) other people, and the paradoxes of living amidst a unity that appears unmeasurably diverse. Relationship puts our capacity to love to the test. Relationship creates love, by allowing us to be love in the eternal space between You and I.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Dissenter

In the August issue of Ode Magazine, Jeremy Mercer writes an intriguing article, “In Praise of Dissent,” where he explores the importance of dissent on creativity, innovation, and social balance. In doing so, he enlists scientific studies that site the power of group think and the social stigmatism involved in going against the grain. Which is where the dissenter comes in. These individuals often experience anxiety over voicing an alternate opinion but feel compulsively compelled to do so anyway, causing themselves ridicule and dismissal by their social group. However, the group actually benefits, points out Mercer in quoting Charlan Nemeth, a psychologist involved in studies at University of Virginia,


“Dissent makes the group as a whole smarter and leads to more divergent thinking, but the people who stand up with those sorts of opinions often get beaten up for it.”


I began to think about how often dissenters are highlighted among these writings. St. Francis, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, the woman that created Kids Off the Block in Chicago, Gandhi, Jung, Buddha... What is it about dissent and faith that are so intimately entwined?


Mercer highlights the courage necessary in voicing dissent or a new perspective:


“By bearing the mental and physical stress of resisting orders or group pressure, dissenters freed others from the chains of blind obedience. The irony, of course, is that instead of being rewarded for this service, dissenters were unfailingly punished by their groups.”


It seems that same characteristic courage is what allows us to explore beyond the social conventions of our time whereupon we encounter the depths of faith. Indeed, we must explore beyond our relative social conventions to find the true heart of faith, which is trusting, loving, and all-pervasive; and nurtures the fulfillment of our highest potential.


In a December 2009 post I said: “Diversity is a gift. It is a means by which we help each other catch a glimpse beyond the veil of our own particular conditioned mind.”


The same is true for the dissenter. The person next to you that always asks “why”? They want an explanation for why things are done/said/believed the way they are, and might even have an idea about how it could be done differently. They happen to be the spark that ignites our inner fire so that we examine ourselves more fully, getting to know our fears and uncertainties without the safety net of “this is just the way it’s always been done.” Mercer gives vibrant examples: Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Galileo. One of the most necessary voyages of the faith-full is to the depths of their fear. Either you get to know the monster under the bed, or fear of the monster will rule your behavior, choices, and speech to the point of causing you, and those around you, considerable suffering.


However, a consequential phenomenon to be recognized is that once a dissenting opinion is accepted by the many, it eventually becomes absorbed into the veil or conditioning. That’s just how it goes. That is exactly why we must, as Jeremy Mercer suggests, foster the existence of our dissenters. We need them in order to constantly maintain the balance and creative impulses of our societies which are also necessarily based on a certain amount of conforming to exist at all. (Mercer points out that we all agree the red road light means stop.)


I would also suggest that we foster the dissenter within ourselves. The voice or feeling that nudges us when we’ve said something false or acted in a way that is against our inner truth, whether it be socially appreciated or not. This kind of vigilance and courage grows faith like a vine, pervading all the dark corners and blooming flowers out in the world that we share.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Radical Self

“Paradise is simply the person, the self, but the radical self in its uninhibited freedom.”

--Thomas Merton, from his journal Learning to Love (1966-67)


(Image: Avalokitesvara by Alex Grey)


The radical self lives in the world of material forms with all its pleasure, pain, and drudgery, while also being acutely aware of the divinity in each moment; that is to say, in constant prayer, contemplation, and renewal. The radical self feels the sensation of resistance [in life] intuitively like the gentle pressing of the back against the chair and leaning into it, knowing resistance, surrenders entirely. The radical self knows its bounds only in order to know no bounds. Life becomes a continuous free fall into the arms of Magnitude. The radical self hears itself lying and corrects the words spoken. It hears the gossip, distortion, complaint, or self-pity which is always in discourse with another person, and rings the bell...Ding! Slay the imposter! The radical self is watching every single event, experience, interaction and thought from a slight distance; from a few feet away in a quiet corner. The radical self is simply Love aware of itself. The fruit, seed and stem. The earth, rain, and sun. It accepts all questions as Mystery and all answers as Possibility. The radical self is the conduit of All-Life, like a live wire carries electricity and so becomes electric.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reading The Long Loneliness

I began reading Dorothy Day’s 1952 autobiography, The Long Loneliness, out of interest in her life’s combination of writing, service, and faith. Day was a journalist, social activist, and convert to Catholicism who lived 1897 to 1980 in the great northern cities of 2oth century America: Chicago and New York. This is important because she reached adulthood during the teens and 20s, taking part in the women’s suffrage and worker’s rights movements, and fraternizing with anti-capitalist groups like the communists and anarchists of the early 20th century. She endured WWI, the Depression, WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam,... This is a woman who witnessed the greatest suffering of last century.


Her early Bohemian lifestyle was one of radical political activism and literature. Day was a woman of singular mind and intention, doing as she pleased, struggling as she chose. This endears her to me. She averted spirituality for most of her youth, but upon having a daughter could no longer ignore her attraction to Catholicism. She lost her common-law husband and various friends in the process. But Day lived a life led by her own heart. And reading her account in her own very direct words brings her alive in the room, palpable, aromatic. However she also brings alive her particular perspective on suffering, poverty, self-denial; the qualities by which she found meaning (or perhaps comforting explanation) amid the Catholic Church.


Having struggled to untangle myself from the crippling ideologies of original sin, mortal sin, glorification of poverty (by the rich Catholic church), and sometimes glorification of suffering (by use of the Crucifixion story) for the better part of my adult life, a discordance began between myself and the book. I had turned to Day’s life story for inspiration at a tenuous time, instead finding the fear-based terrain of my childhood conditioning magnified tenfold.


How can we deny the body when the body is a miracle of creation? How can we proclaim poverty, when “riches” can be shared? When success is blessing found in achieving our highest potential? (Our highest potential = giving life to the Life within.) If we focus on suffering, on how terrible life is, on how our “cross” will take us to the Heaven of Thereafter, what are we creating in this life (which is a gift to be cherished)? How are we honoring the beautiful Mystery of Life by fixating exclusively on the prevalence of suffering and some “world” to come instead of relieving the suffering that is present now and reveling in the heavenly joy that is now?


Day must have asked some of these questions herself, for she quotes Saint Catherine (247) “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Perhaps she also struggled with the dichotomies even as she took refuge in the comforting Catholic rituals and long-standing presence. Perhaps the struggle between living in joy right now and believing that we are sinful creatures that need to deny body and life to “sit at the right hand of the Father in Heaven” is the exact source of the long loneliness.


I had to put the book down. At page 250 of 286, I had to put the book down out of self-preservation. Childhood conditioning holds too strong; it’s what we revert to in our weakest, most tired and dark moments. I want to rise above that. I choose to create a life out of love and joy and compassion, the exact humanity that Jesus preached about in the Gospels. The Judeo-Christian fixation on fear does not serve either love or joy, and certainly not compassion.


But Dorothy Day was no stranger to compassion. Instead she ultimately became the poster-woman for compassionate action. When recounting the time she was jailed and went on a hunger strike with other women in DC as protest against the unjust treatment received by arrested suffragists, she says this:


“What was right and wrong? What was good and evil? I lay there in utter confusion and misery.


When I first wrote about these experiences I wrote even more strongly of my identification with those around me. I was that mother whose child had been raped and slain. I was the mother who had borne the monster who had done it. I was even that monster, feeling in my own breast every abomination. Is this exaggeration? There are not so many of us who have lain for six days and nights in darkness, cold and hunger, pondering in our heart the world and our part in it. If you live in great cities, if you are in constant contact with sin and suffering, if the daily papers print nothing but Greek tragedies, if you see on all sides people trying to find relief from the drab boredom of their job and family life, in sex and alcohol, then you become inured to the evil of the day, and it is rarely that such a realization of the horror of sin and human hate can come to you.” (78-79)


Through the harrowing human conditions she witnessed, Day came to her own conclusions about remedying the long loneliness of modern life, indeed the long loneliness of human life.


“Community”, she says later, “...was the social answer to the long loneliness.” (224) And she’s right. But true community requires not only that we love and forgive and practice non-judgement toward others, but also toward ourselves, something that Catholic doctrine has historically overlooked. Self-awareness, then, could be seen as the spiritual answer to the long loneliness. You and I are both emanations of the Divine; we are the children of God as well as the Mother and Father. Each one of us is All as much as we are part. If I deny myself, how can I serve you? But if I know myself, how can I overlook you?


Revelations of suffering and injustice are often necessary to living an awakened life. In one sense, that is the gift side of suffering, to awaken us to our true nature, to awaken us to our capacity to love. But once we see suffering, feel it, become “inured” to its presence, we must move beyond. Day knew this too,


“One thing I was sure of, and that was that these fellow workers and I were performing an act of worship. I felt that it was necessary for man to worship, that he was truly himself when engaged in that act.” (93)


Action as worship. Community as solace. Self-awareness (self-acceptance) as the path to these.


So what of the Catholic Church’s fixation on suffering, sin, denial of the material body? How does it jive with the open heart advocated by Day and her Catholic contemporaries like Thomas Merton?


I found a possible answer while perusing a book called The Shadow Effect at the library. We must be witness to the whole. We must live whole lives, both experiencing pain and joy. Darkness is ever-present, but it’s the absence of Light we need to be concerned about. At the center of the heart we can witness whatever is present without turning away. Which means we can be truly open to compassion and grace, and truly capable of knowing ourselves, shadow and all, which is to say, knowing God.


I still struggle with Christianity’s exclusive language about the sinner and the evil body and the idea that humanity’s suffering can be explained by a “fall” from grace eating the fruit of knowledge.* I think someone got that story wrong. That story says to me: God and God (duality, i.e., Dark and Light) were tempted by God to taste God and in doing so found God. Self-awareness!


Dorothy Day somehow had the wisdom to integrate the obsessive aspect of her Church and focus on the immanent action of love. Of honoring and knowing the Other as herself. And living in fear of nothing, neither suffering nor joy. She recounts an Indian poem she read in a book about Gandhi:


“I died as a mineral and became a plant.

I died as a plant and became an animal,

I died as an animal and was a man.

What should I fear? When was I less by dying?” (248)





*Please check out this refreshing article by Michael Bindner, which suggests that the “original sin” was blame.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Eat to Live

In his spiritual treatise, The Tao of Wu, RZA addresses food and spirituality from a profoundly simple level. In the chapter, “Man and Animal,” (p. 147) he says:


“I don’t eat meat-- I’ve been vegetarian since 1995. But I didn’t stop because I became a Buddhist or a Hindu. I stopped because I had a revelation I was eating dead animals.


...In fact, Dirty and I didn’t eat meat from ages fourteen to sixteen, but then we started getting into sex and drugs and that led to us being carnivorous.


But this time, my student saw me eating a steak and he pointed to the bone... ‘You eat that?’ And I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t eat pork, but I think it’s everybody’s choice.’ But something about what this kid said made me reassess. And from that day forth I didn’t eat red meat anymore.


...I started thinking about it like, ‘I’m alive, I have a life, my flesh is alive. Why should I eat something that’s dead?’

...I started reading books about it...that at one point everything that we ate was alive-- we’d eat from the tree, from the ground, our droppings would feed the tree. It was all life and therefore man didn’t die. When he put death into his body, he started to die.

From that point on, I ate to live.”


His reference to “death” can be understood best metaphorically. Of course all life dies; the two are inseparable. We need not elude Death so much as we should better care for Life. Illness, disease, pathology; these are the deaths to which RZA speaks: When he put death into his body, he started to [experience dis-ease]. How life-affirming are the foods we put into our bodies? What kind of sounds into our ears? How nourishing is the environment in which we live? Nourishment goes far beyond food. Eat to live. Think to live. Speak to live.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Good Morning, Cranky

This morning I woke cranky. An overwhelmed feeling pervaded my every movement as I skulked from the bed to the bathroom to the kitchen. I kept having thoughts like “Why am I feeling this way? It’s a fresh day. I slept well. What’s my problem?” The accusations weighing even heavier on my drudgery. This feeling stayed with me all morning until emailing with a friend, when through our dialogue I was able to understand how I have been putting a ton of pressure on myself to get this done and that done and this finished by then and that planted before it rains and that part done before this-- constant pressure to get there.


My friend and I wondered together: Where is it we’re so rabid to get to? And what’s the rush?


I read somewhere once that if I'm making myself or the people around me miserable trying to achieve some goal, than the goal is worthless. So it seems wise to learn to recognize that self-pressure feeling, then to say no. Or say yes, rather, to whatever it is in front of us right this minute. To start from right here. We have to be willing to start at A every day. I get so worried about B, C, and sometimes even Z that A becomes a burden instead of a beautiful gift from the Universe to know myself and experience life fully, gratefully.


My friend elaborated, “All we ever gotta do is A, you know? Just A and then A, and then A. Its like in a way, all the other letters are a mirage, an illusion.”


Three reminders today:


1) Surrender to right now. Honor feeling tired or honor feeling energized, but be fully alive whatever the conditions.


2) Remember that everything happens in small increments, so by looking at the increment in front of me today, I will find myself at the next increment tomorrow, and so forth, until my goal is achieved or my project done or my dream realized.


3) Conversations with friends are invaluable opportunities. Relationships are the mirror into which we can look and find answers to our deepest questions about ourselves. Crankiness and all.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Community: The Disability Postcard Project

The more I write about Faith, the more I realize the importance of community as an emanation of the Divine—how relationship is a gift to use in order to truly know and love ourselves, in turn finding limitless compassion and love for everyone (and everything) else. Solitude, introspection, contemplation; these are the healthy forms of aloneness that keep us alive in our communities and fully connected spiritually. Isolation and loneliness, on the other hand, cause suffering, even if they are Modernist principles that have captured the arts and presumptions about creativity for the last couple centuries.

VSA, which is The International Organization on Arts and Disability, has a different idea of artistry and creativity:

“Inclusion teaches us that all means all. Everybody. No exceptions. The arts invite people to leave familiar territory, to explore new answers and seek new questions. The arts offer a means to self-expression, communication, and independence. By learning through the arts, students become lifelong learners, experiencing the joy of discovery and exploration, and the value of each other's ideas.

Recently VSA did an inspiring project where they invited people with disabilities and their loved ones to create an image representing their individual perceptions of “disability.” A postcard template served as the canvas for the imagery, mailed in to VSA, where eventually every card will be exhibited together.

My family participated in the project in a show of solidarity with my sister, Sara, who has cerebral palsy. Doing this as a family felt amazing and ignited the special tie among us that witnesses loneliness and pain all too often; so that we were able to create seven beautiful and healing images that we will cherish together forever:








(Acrylic paint, Sharpie marker, collage, and photography were some of the media used.)

*Click on an image to see a larger view.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wisdom Anyplace: RZA and The Tao of Wu

“The RZA” is a celebrated hip-hop artist, and founder of the Wu Tang-Clang, but he is also a deeply spiritual man; someone who’s perspective of the world boarders on the mystical at times. This becomes most evident in the words (and silences) he has written in The Tao of Wu, a series of meditations interweaving stories from RZA’s personal journey, Islam, math, Kung Fu, music, chess, poetry... His audience is a particular one: the youth of our city streets, the ones living in poverty, uncertainty, caught in a schizophrenic economic system. He can speak to these youth (and adults) with honesty and respect, because he knows where they come from, what they endure, what their fears are, in a way that others could never do. But he also knows that wisdom lives in each of us, no matter what our living conditions. That if we look closely enough, wisdom can be found anyplace, even in death and disease, even in a culture of violence, perhaps even in the darkest alleyway in the neighborhood. It is our relationship to our conditions of suffering that offers a window into wisdom. And the quality of our relationship with others:

“…knowledge means knowing, but wisdom means acting—acting on what you know, seeing the person who’s drowning right the fuck in front of you, and stepping in… My mom’s death ripped something from me that isn’t coming back. But it forced my mind and heart to remember, to accept what I can’t change and get the freedom that comes with that…When we neglect others out of superficial wisdom, fake respect, phony knowledge—we tell ourselves it’s their life; we say it’s not our responsibility…Fuck that. Get involved. Or we’ll all feel the pain.” (p.171)

Amid quotes from masters such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jesus, Lao-Tzu, Rumi and Aristotle, RZA breaks down his insights into the ancient seven pillars of wisdom, getting real about the issues that afflict our spiritual maturity, from materialism (especially in rap culture) in the chapter entitled “Bling and Nothingness,” to drugs, to vegetarianism. Though RZA incorporates many wisdom traditions in his work, clearly Islam and mathematics within Islam, has had a profound significance on his own spiritual journey and comes up often in his writing; not in an evangelical way, but just that it is deeply rooted in his perceptions of life and the world, and to share one, he must share all. I admit to knowing almost nothing about this spiritual tradition but found it both intriguing and complementary to the ways I often see hidden connections among the details in life.

The details of RZA’s life have been complex and challenging; he makes no excuses but employs wit and humility to offer guidance from his experience. This combination is powerful. And although I think I missed some of his meaning simply because our backgrounds differ so greatly, I found affirmation of the wisdom I have cultivated in my own life, albeit under different conditions. Reminding me that no matter where we come from (or where we’re going), we are each a spiritual being traveling an individual patha path that demands the wisdom and love of others.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Community

In Buddhism, one of the first basic teachings instructs the student to take refuge in the Three Jewels or Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To take refuge means to find safety, or guidance.

The Buddha indicates the highest spiritual being, which exists in each of us. Buddha literally means, “enlightened one” or more simply, “the one who knows”.

Dharma is the Truth and the ultimate reality.

And Sangha is generally referred to as Community.

For many years I have felt like the first two refuges are perfectly sound ones, but have struggled with that of community; especially in a society like ours, where businesses are run by large corporations from another state, neighborhoods are gated, while people turn to each other less and to the TV or internet more. The internet, though it can act as another isolating media form, has also somehow started reinventing the idea of community with social networks, blogs, etc, where people with similar interests or beliefs can connect over fast geographic spaces. This phenomenon may be testament to the enduring need of humans to seek community, even in new forms.

Recently I have found fresh perspective on my personal relationship to community with a group of people with whom I study holistic nutrition and wellness. Whether it has been getting excited about new greens and grains, or discussing the challenges and rewards of meditation, I finally feel the indisputable benefits of a community of like-focused individuals. Because it’s just easier to find your strength, your Buddha, your Truth amid the loving (non-judgmental) support of people doing the same in their own lives. And although many of the ways of organizing community may be changing from those utilized in the 19th and 20th centuries; community meets the need that each of us has for meaningful relationship that affirms our truest desires and goals.

So I’d like to extend thanks to all the friends, family, and colleagues that presently make up my various sanghas. My journey grows richer every day with your presence and support.