Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Corner of Satya ST and Samsara BLVD

One: The Musical

Watch for's coming to New York.

The theatre collective posted what I wrote for my Buddhist audience on their website here. I wrote that before I saw it, piecing together what I could from an email from Wade McCollum (now I can't believe I passed up the chance to interview him in person) and from their press releases and other research. I tried to be positive but neutral...I mean I didn't know if it would be good and was a little worried it would be the new age tripe that the Mercury tried to say it was. I said maybe it could be a bodhisattva...and now I know it is.

Shiva! This is now my favorite musical. I'm all tingly. I just got home from the last showing here in Portland. Wow. I went to see it a week ago, and already the little dialog things I thought needed tightening up were changed for the better. (My contact with them told me tonight they're always changing it like that.)

Ok, I know it sounds hokey, and you'll think, it's been done...Hair, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar. And now I'm all excited because it's OUR musical, the musical for Buddhists. It started out based loosely on Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha" and is set in these times about a young man faced with the choice of fame or a spiritual path, but it is so much more than than that. My favorite character is Karuna, who appears at key moments to Sid Arthur. (I did say it was hokey, but so's a Lion King.) She sings...incredibly beautifully..."Gate gate, paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha" (pronounced gah-tay)

So ya know how in musicals there's always a love interest. In this one it's the dharma. Karuna means compassion, and that mantra is a key one throughout much of Buddhism, the essence of the Heart Sutra. There are several other mantras throughout, parts of songs, of choruses, even of Sid Arthur 'hearing things'.

The Mercury (the bitter gen-x-er newspaper) dismissed it as new age tripe, but new age it is not. There is one really funny song/scene in the Zen Sandwich that laughs heartily at "ginko biloba burgers" and their product placement (really) Awake Zen tea, and has the very cute Karuna as a barista singing nasally, "Latte, satte (something something) got your latte...." That comes up several times, I love it, can't wait for their cd so I can remember all the songs. If anything it pokes fun of the stereotyped new ager tendency to keep grasping for something externally that can only be found internally.

Here's where it's not hokey: they really get it. The dharma. It's vibrant, not shallow. Whatever I might try to say fails to do it justice. Two characters, one is Dukkha, not sure what the other one is called but is her twin with the eyes on the hands....maybe she is "Vision/Aversion" They along with a dakini/kali inspired goddess woman make this come to life.

In a way that only musicals can, the cast make the internal visible to the audience, bring out in song and choreography this dilemna that happens in the main character's heart. Dreams, imagined thoughts, waking life, flow together. In the end, Sid follows his heart.

He gets into the cab with the Cosmic Taxi Driver again, where he meets up his friend that he abandoned for the fame track. Now they can harmonize. And the cosmic taxi driver, Dave, says, "Here we are. The corner of Satya Street and Samsara Boulevard." and Sid says, "I LOVE this intersection."

That about sums it up.

At the end, all the cast is seated in meditation...lights fade. The end. What kind of musical ends with people meditating? ONE for ME!

I was absolutely bursting afterwards. First time I saw it, I had the "premium seats" up front but this time I sat in the balcony and that was actually better, I could see more of the choreography. I was ready to turn around and see it again. Instead I rolled down the window, and let the burst out at the people milling on the sidewalk, as I knew how to shout it from many ceremonies past, "Bodheeeeeeeee Svahaaaaaaaa!" My best friend driving cackled and said, "You wild woman!"

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Responding to Katrina

I've been working on this piece, sorta solicited by the director of BPF. Her immediate response to the Katrina response can be found here.

When events as awesome as Hurricane Katrina happen, they are like a great karmic distress flare. Their effects are so huge that all aspects of this conscious life are lit up in stark relief. Meritorious deeds blind us with their shiny glare and melt our hearts, but our dark karmas that we so often shy away from, these too are revealed with startling clarity. As with a distress flare, the sufferings are sharply outlined, too brazen for us to ignore.
The understanding of karma can be simple, and it can be complicated. When revealed by the effects of a hurricane that was the size of four states, there is no denying any of it. Sifting through the wreckage can be tedious as well as devastating. Put simply, karma is cause and effect. Katrina is a karma, nobody’s fault (though global warming likely has something to do with it). Racism and classism are more complicated karmas. The gestalt of our karma, our interconnectedness, this interwoven webbed thread of connections, this is our reality according to Buddhism. If we pull one thread, we cannot help but find another, and another, and another. Hurricane Katrina reveals how we pull those threads, as individuals and as a society.

The notion that we are separate beings is an illusion, but it is one that many in these United States like to buy into. (And buy we do, too.) When I learned that a portion of New Orleans that was most likely to be underwater was the poorest, and that in a mandatory evacuation those poor and mostly black people were given no useful means to leave, I couldn’t help but look at this illusion of separateness. People take care of themselves first. As this great distress flare of a hurricane brought to light the heritage that is our city of New Orleans and its precarious vulnerability to flooding, I couldn’t help but think about who must have been at the table when plans to protect her were devised. Rich and middle class white people. Who was there to say, "When you declare a mandatory evacuation, how will the people without cars get out?" I mourned for those who died because this systemic classism had made no plans for them, and I mourned for those at the table, who surely must feel the pangs of regret.

With such a watershed event, it is too easy to pick and choose what bits of the interconnected karma we focus on. Now more than ever there’s an instantaneous access to thousands of bits of information, and one way or another bits can be found to bolster any point of view. I find myself paralyzed as I try to sift through all the information. A president who remains on a glad-handing vacation tour. Here in Portland, our own hate radio icon Lars Larson believes the post-Katrina disaster was entirely due to criminals of the 'projects' and the "lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness" of the "welfare wards". Countless right-wing ditto-heads (including the President) who repeat, "Now’s not the time to play the blame game," while an anonymous senior White House official blames Democratic Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco for not declaring a state of emergency. I boggle at their amoral genius. They know their so-called opposition the Liberals make a practice of emotional feel-goods like avoiding 'the blame game'. They count on the cascading torrent of conflicting information to confuse people. They count on enough people clinging to it as truth even when revealed as a lie.

I read blogs, email lists, Indymedia, and filter through mainstream TV and press. Accounts reported as fact that are later shown to be untrue, such as 'lawless thugs' shooting at relief helicopters, or babies murdered in the convention center. One person’s 'looter' is another's 'forager'. Conscious and unconscious prejudices determine the weight a fact is given. Well-meaning folks gather supplies and support only to be turned away by inexplicable orders. I wonder if questions will ever be answered over the delayed relief. I wonder if it is paranoid to entertain thoughts that incompetence conveniently masks test cases for martial law. How does the media turn from scolding incompetence to praising the swagger of a general? I wonder at the ease in which martial law is welcomed. How does a failure to protect become a military operation?

Some Buddhists feel that rage and anger have no place in the Dharma. Buddhist Peace Fellowship director Maia Duerr hesitated to use strong words, "Genocide. Ethnic Cleansing. Economic Cleansing. What else to call it when thousands of poor, Black people are allowed to die in front of our eyes?" What else can we trust but such heartfelt cries? A long time ago I was given a glimpse of my own racism when a Native American woman accused me of giving her poor service because of the color of her skin. I was shocked and defensive and didn’t believe it, but her burst of anger woke me up. Never again in customer service did I allow a white man to slip in front of a black woman because he's in a hurry. (They do, you know.) Never again did I allow a person of color to yield her place in line to a white person. (They do, you know.) I needed that person's anger to awaken me to a more skillful way of being the good person I wish to be.

So let me vent my own angry response, that I agree with Maia, "The decimation of New Orleans is the great tragedy and shame of the American people, and particularly, the Bush administration. We don't need terrorists to take us down. The empire is crumbling from within." I would say the capitalists who have stolen our country from us have set up a plutocratic hegemony. What does that mean to us who pay our tribute of taxes? They put unqualified people in positions where they rake in money, but do not bother to do the job that their position supposedly asks of them. They are lords of the manor squandering the hard-earned money of the serfs. Their titles mean nothing but are ornamental, simply a reason to divvy up the loot. These are the real looters, and they exploit the dark thread of racism as well as calmly install a Supreme Court Chief Justice in the midst of the chaos.

Scenes from a Library Overhaul: Day 1

Death of a card catalog

Several years ago the local governing agency put forth the call for a new library catalog fitting for a crown jewel of a library system. Several corporate suitors sought the hand of this demanding princess, but only one could win. In the end, Innovative Interfaces met the demanding conditions and won the contract over all other suitors, assuring the local government that their product Millenium would best meet the needs of the library. Nobles, scholars, computer wizards, squires, and pages of the library system gathered repeatedly to consult and protect their diverse needs and wishes for the new catalog system, and the company did its best to construct its wizardly tool to answer even the lowly page's request, "Larger font for printouts, please." Officials reassured patrons and pages alike that this company would best meet their needs, why, even their big sister library, King County, uses it.

Library computer wizards worked day and night to assure the smooth transfer of all bits of knowledge and its relations from one container to the other. They constructed their wizardly spells while business continued as usual among the library caretakers and users. Well, not completely as usual, as the many workers who would use this new catalog needed to learn how to use it without having the completed product to work with. Those who rely heavily on visual cues secretly chewed their nails as they were repeatedly told, "This is not what it's going to look like." But as all wizards (and those who study wizards) know, no one can really convey what a spell looks like until it is completed, but if one can understand the logic of the spell, the change shouldn't be too bad.

Now clearly Day 1 of this library overhaul did not begin on September 11, 2005, but as this humble scribe looks back, it's hard to know where to start, so why not the day the old catalog died? After all, even before the proclamation seeking corporate suitors, the nobles of the fiefdom of Multnomah County had long recognized the continual need to meet change opportunistically, and the library has seen many sweeping shifts in policies, protocols, as well as the magical technology.

This scribe was there when the first of the library's many buildings was completely renovated and brought back to life to include the magical windows into the world called the internet. One by one the buildings were improved with electrical potions and wizardly objects to improve the fiefdom's subjects' access to that internet. Indeed, the advent of the World Wide Web and the continual improvement of computer wizardry brought about the end of the dynix catalog system. Wizardly support is no longer provided to the worn-out DYNA, and most libraries now choose web-based catalogs (and for all this scribe knows, may be the only large catalog system provided these days). Besides, the nobles had a duty to spend the taxes they'd collected for technology on technology, or they would have been fined.

The many scholars, squires, pages, subjects and nobles were quite used to using the old DYNA catalog. Some could even create rudimentary spells with it. One fellow squire tells me DYNA came into use back in 1989. Another squire told me back then they were told a few things, and were set loose to sink or swim. Nowadays we have intensive training to understand the many functions the wizardly tool provides. Some of the teachers were frustrated that they could not yet provide such complete training to their co-workers on the new catalog, but most merely shrugged, knowing at least we wouldn't literally be at risk of drowning. [not at all meant to convey any of the preparation and process was incompetent.]

The library computer wizards and the corporate computer wizards did all they could to make the princess's transition from one catalog to another as seamless as possible, but when it came down to it, when one died the other couldn't immediately be born. So on 6 pm, Sunday, September 11, DYNA was shut down at Multnomah County and squires and pages, whose job it is to check in books and shuffle them to their various places had to stop doing so for three days. Thanks to the foresight of the nobles and other middle-management types, they were not required to shuffle books about aimlessly for those three days, but gatekeepers locked the doors and pulled up the drawbridges until the books and other conveyors of thought and entertainment could be processed in the usual manner. The heralds made proclamations far and wide, so it is to be hoped the subjects heeded their words and don't leave their library materials outside the gates at risk of theft.

Friday, September 02, 2005

MacGyver in Space

The thing I like most about scifi is the creation of worlds, creation of societies. I really get a good fix of that with alternate reality type shows like Sliders or of course the Star Trek universe where so many alien societies are encountered. Lately I've been watching Stargate SG-1. I didn't watch it on television, but now I'm up to the 7th season on DVD. Refreshingly, they haven't succumbed very much to the cheesecake trend that we saw in Star Trek: Enterprise. Almost every episode reveals a new world visited through the stargate.

I got a nifty little bonus with the extras on disc 3 of season 7. mean Richard Dean Anderson (sexier as Jack O'Neil) likes the outdoors, and was working on a project with a friend, documenting 8 of the great rivers of the world. He says the most profound experience was on the upper Yangtze. They made an effort to document the "physicality of it, but also the many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries along the way." He really enjoyed meeting the people and communicating through body language. Unfortunately they must still be working on the documentary, there's no mention in IMDB or his website. There is about 3 minutes on his DVD featurette, wonderful footage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Poem: Birthright

let’s face it.
for all our discourse
the snarls lurk
just under the surface.

is it territory
or delight?

a child shines brightly.
no doubt
in her right
to an opinion

years later she sees
and feels
a direct link:
this child to the wounded adult
who mourns for her,
who would have that child
in a wiser love.

some gave that child space,
others confusion.
she can now take it back,
her birthright.
a wild mind

The Obesity Epidemic

Scientific American: Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic? [ NUTRITION AND HEALTH ] A growing number of dissenting researchers accuse government and medical authorities--as well as the media--of misleading the public about the health consequences of rising body weights

Several myths about obesity, or as they say, "conventional wisdom" about the health effects of fat, were questioned in the article. I first learned the CDC's figure of 300,000 deaths per year from obesity was blatantly wrong in the zine Figure 8 #3. (Figure 8 is written by my sweetie's sweetie. She has some really cool interviews in there.) She talked about The Obesity Myth by Paul F. Campos, which figured prominently in the Scientific American article.

There are a few things I have learned over the years from reading fat activists, as well as through my own experience, and I've concluded the greatest risk to our health is not our fatness, but the response to our fatness. The way we are treated due to our fatness affects our access, our willingness to see doctors, and increases our stress.

There are doctors will prescribe weight loss rather than address the symptoms, and the standard strategy to that is to ask, "How do you treat thin people for this problem?" Fortunately with my doctors I have not had to resort to that.

My healthcare provider has a newsletter, and recently they featured the strong connection of body health to mind health, the gist of which is "you are what you think." More than anything else, your state of mind determines how healthy you are, or how susceptible you are to illnesses or injury. (Through the years, I've wondered why a practice of meditation and a vegetarian diet never earned me points with the insurance industry.) I've been meaning to ask them why they don't address the effect oppression has on state of mind, and consequently health. Studies have shown that black people have higher rates of hypertension and heart disease. Hmmm, so do obese people. Is it our eating habits, or the stress from oppression?

If excess weight were treated as a symptom rather than a cause of poor health, life would be so much simpler. I truly believe my gaining of weight in the past 10 years should have been recognized as a symptom of sleep apnea, among other things. Why did my doctors never ask me if I was famous for snoring? The only way I have ever lost weight was through starving why haven't doctors ever discussed with me reasons for a low metabolism?

Certainly, I have not had a normal relationship with food. I think I do now, and in my estimation have for about ten years, but the damage was already done. If I suffered from an eating disorder, it was a societal one. As a child becoming a woman, I was taught shame for every morsel of food that entered my mouth. I was taught my curvy, rubenesque body was not good enough, would never be good enough. I was taught that I was unacceptable.

I'm sure that some women thinner than me think my obvious enjoyment of food signifies an eating disorder. This societal eating disorder, it is rampant in Wisconsin. When I visited there, I failed at explaining to my mom and grandma that I'd had to learn food was not the enemy. That by feeling guilty about every morsel, I was never satisfied and that kept me seeking satisfaction. People who are subject to this societal eating disorder, they never let go of the control. They always must worry about a gain of a few pounds. They must always talk about the diet they must maintain whenever food is mentioned. They can never be grateful for the food that sustains them, because it is the enemy. They can never be happy with themselves just as they are. The perfect diet is always in the future. What a sad way to live.

I think this was a key for my recovery. I needed to accept and love myself, and I needed to learn gratitude, not guilt, for the food that sustains me. Loving myself, I find and accept my limitations, but I also push at the edges of those limitations to keep moving, to stay healthy. Now I am quite healthy emotionally, but the karma of my past is available for all to see, my big body. There are many factors that contribute to this societal eating disorder, including a weight loss industry that benefits from an "illness" that resists treatment, but I have to wonder if scapegoating enters into it. It is easy to see "overweight". It's easier to hide the karma of other addictions: alcoholism, aggression, obsession, the list could go on. We fear and we judge, and the spotlight gets put on the most easily seen.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Shocking" History lesson from Right-Wingers

More often than not, I get far right propaganda news for my "polyamory" google news alerts. Hmm, maybe I could start keeping tabs. Today, score 1 for sex advice column result for "open relationship". Score 1 for conservative propaganda for "polyamory". World Net Daily makes me wanna go search for porn just to clear the ucky feelings out of my brain (not that I do that). I mean really...the headline today: "American Hiroshima" Puh-lease.

Today's spider found ACLU's Shocking Legacy for me. According to WND, the American Civil Liberties Union had "strong socialist and communist ties." Oh no! They've always been trying to "destroy America." While I know Margaret Sanger committed illegal abortions, I highly doubt she was a "passionate advocate of eugenics" in the way we've come to understand eugenics as forced sterilization. As I understand it, she worked to give women a choice. WND has given me a nice outline for historical research should I be so inclined, but I will trust my reading, not theirs.

So I try finding Alan Sears' claim that the ACLU "has expressed support for polygamy and polyamory". Some creative googling yielded no results for 'polyamory' on ACLU's website. Way back in 91, some plural wives were supported by ACLU in Utah...this seems to constitute the 'support' for polygamy. He cites the organization's "policy guide" whatever that is. (Why can't I even find it in Worldcat?) Pretty nifty trick, quoting something others can't find, and saying what you like about it.

Even though I can't find a clearcut support for polyamory, thanks, WND, you've inspired me to look into joining the ACLU!

Love Bites

This sex advice column out of Toronto comes up fairly often in my Google news alerts, and I continue to be impressed. Love Bites is written by a former stripper who herself has an open relationship. Sasha is straightforward and practical. From the few I've seen, she is very good at showing people how they limit themselves and how they can either make those chosen limitations work for them, or how they can step outside them. She's also very cute in a pink bathing suit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Field Notes on Love and Compassion

More than a month ago I wrote a little bit about "Field Notes on the Compassionate Life" by Marc Ian Barasch. I finished the book, but ran out of time to write about it before I left for a trip to Wisconsin. I was hopeful I could put some new thoughts, new lessons on radical empathy into practice there. The author wrote this book of field notes because he wanted to find out how to be compassionate. It was full of questions, and he sought answers from the experts, either those who studied the science of the heart, or those who were acknowledged to be extraordinarily giving by folks around them. Marc asks, "It's a perennial question about the amplitude of compassion and the carrying capacity of the heart: Do we only have a fixed quota of loving to allocate between family and the world at large, so that if one receives more, the other gets less?" (p. 181) I had a similar question as I headed back for my family visit, I who talk much about it being all about love: Can I be a lover to my birth family?

I was anxious about visiting Wisconsin. When I got there, I felt like I was in a different country. I truly am a Wisconsin expatriate. I was reminded of one radically empathic person interviewed by Barasch, I think he was a rabbi. He gladly indiscriminately dispensed compassion to all, but confessed he did take St. John's Wort for depression. It isn't easy loving all. I did manage to have some connective conversations with my stepfather, and afterward my mom said it made her happy when we talked more. She clearly didn't know how uncomfortable those conversations made me, and I didn't want her to know. On the one hand I thought it was good he seemed to want to connect with me, on the other, the weird warped craziness around alcoholism that is viewed as normal was very difficult to be around. I needed daily conversations with my loved ones back home in Portland.

My visit there sparked thoughts about the difference between urban and rural folk. As far back as the Silk Road, cities have been places where people had to get along if trade was to flourish. People had to get along if they were going to live so closely together. Folks in the country must rely upon themselves for defense, and will often resort to aggressive strategies. I could not go back to the xenophobic, insular society that is found in much of rural Wisconsin. That low buzz of paranoia and racism never lets up. I've heard about Madison, a small haven for progressives, but even there, a few years ago myairportt shuttle driver said, "Yeah, we have some freaks here." (meaning folks like me.) I am still pondering this city mouse/ country mouse difference.

This "carrying capacity of the heart" was significant to me. We polyamorists often encounter the prejudice that it must be unnatural to love more than one person. We commonly counter that with the parent/child analogy. When a parent has a second child, she doesn't worry about having less love available for the first. Really, and this is a very Buddhist construct, the most limiting notion of love is in our own minds. While outsiders glance at this growing subculture and dismiss it as hedonistic or as overrun with jealousy because we're 'wired' to be monogamous, we who experience it and take the time to work the knots out of our societal conditioning find love grows the more one gets practice at loving more than one. Jealousy is understood to be a knot of karmic conditioning that needs untangling. The untangling process reveals fears and insecurities than can be addressed and they dissipate naturally or with a little encouragement, a little changing of mind.

Much of spiritual tradition separates love of humanity from romantic love and sexual love. In my experience they do not need to be mutually exclusive. More thoughts on that soon....

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

One: The Musical

Like many North Americans, I love a good story that ends well. Even though they're fluff, I watch a shallow romantic comedy now and then. There are movies that aspire to a deeper message, but still there's that overlay of a simple archetypal story. Same with theater. I've come to appreciate the gift of theater over a movie...a live show, dedicated people putting on seemingly flawless performances, the creativity and physics involved in staging...there are the same archetypal plots, but the beauty is in the performance and the ingenuity.

So, while I refrained from mentioning it (or "Hair") in my article about it for the NW Dharma News, I am delighted that we Buddhists get our "Jesus Christ Superstar," and it was born here in Portland.

One: The Musical is showing in Portland in mid-September, the brain-child of Wade McCollum. In my research, I found Wade's biggest cheerleader to be Joseph Gallivan of the Tribune. Sure enough, this week he has gushing things to say about Wade and his pitch for the musical. The group needs money if they are going to put on a good show.

I haven't met Wade, and briefly met dedicated members of the Insight Out Theatre Collective, but heck, this is a modern Buddhist musical so I'm inclined to like it. I hope my endorsement will help them bring in some money so they can put on a really good show.

Here's what I wrote for the NW Dharma News:

ONE: A Revelation Has Begun

Bodhisattvas take many forms. Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has said the next Buddha could be born as a community. Portland may well be the birthplace of a Bodhisattva in the form of…a modern American rock musical. ONE ~ The Musical: A Revelation Has Begun will show in Portland’s newly renovated Wonder Ballroom from September 15 to October 1. Inspired by the story of Siddhartha, ONE follows the journey of a modern day youth, Sid Arthur. A musician, Sid is faced with choosing fame and duplicity, or listening to his community and following the music of truth in his heart. Integrating Eastern and Western philosophy, music, and dance, the Insight Out Theatre Collective hopes the musical will "create a space for dialog, celebrating the contrast and harmonies of disparate belief systems." They say "ONE opens the door for sharing ideas, perspectives and stories of many kinds, thus enriching its message of connection."

The author and lead actor Wade McCollum has been writing ONE for over ten years. He co-wrote the music with Eric Nordin. Earlier incarnations of the musical were produced by Stark Raving Theater in 1999 and Insight Out in 2003. An award-winning actor in Portland and LA, Wade McCollum earned effusive reviews not only for his acting in the leads of "Bat Boy" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," but for his charismatic presence. "He speaks softly, and with an enthusiasm for humanity you don’t often see in actors on the way up. …Look out for him. As they say around here, he’s the shiny one." said Joseph Gallivan of the Tribune.

Wade McCollum shared some thoughts with me on finding his inspiration in the story of the Buddha. In creating ONE, he wanted to address the challenges of living in the modern world, and so wished "to highlight the journey of self-realization within an urban context." It is not meant to be a traditional telling of the story of Siddhartha, but it does explore the ideas and discoveries inherent in Buddhist thought. Wade said, "How do we find the peace that Siddhartha found beneath the Bodhi tree, underneath a skyscraper?"

He says, "We consistently affirm throughout the show the quintessential discovery of interconnectedness. This fundamental unity is the affirmation of the show. …I feel that ONE is an important meditation on how the personal relates to the whole. People so often are told, "don't try to change the world, just change yourself." And yet, this often is followed by feelings of complacency rather than evolutionary momentum. I feel that ONE showcases the power in changing the collective through personal stillness, refinement and reflection. Beginning the revelation of interconnectedness, and beginning the shift in perspective to an uncompromising seat within infinite intelligent love."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life

A couple of months ago I attended a panel discussion by a few religious leaders in Portland, and wrote on it for the Northwest Dharma News. I am reading the book they were talking about, or were inspired by, as the case may be. Now that I am reading it, I realize one way they did not do it justice is in conveying the multitude of stories that fills the pages. I feel like I've been carpet-bombed, not with deadly things but with compassion, love, loving-kindness, forgiveness, and radical empathy. I do find myself wondering, what would this man say about the burgeoning movement of polyamory? Because as I read it I find myself thinking, oh yeah, i recognize that, thanks to learning from love in so many ways from living polyamorously. More on that when I finish the book. For now, here is the article about the author visit that got cancelled:

Author Marc Ian Barasch cancelled much of his book tour to attend to his dying mother, but in Portland the April event still occurred without him, with his encouragement. In “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life,” the author looks to history, science and personal stories to draw out the subject. Portland’s event included a panel of a Christian teacher, a rabbi, and three Buddhist teachers. Together they offered perspectives on compassion as related to their religious traditions, and then opened it to questions from the audience.

Kyogen Carlson read a statement by Marc Barasch. He began with a quote from Rumi, “Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being. …You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses.” The theme was captured with a quote from Marc’s mother a few weeks before her death, “I love to love.” Marc said that the “underlying principle of compassion is radical empathy.” The book, admired by all those on the panel, is full of stories of radical empathy in action.

Gyokuko Carlson [in link, 3rd photo down] moderated. Lama Michael Conklin focused on the selflessness of the people in the book, remarking on their happiness. He advised that if we wished to accomplish such altruism, we “hold the view that who we are is a reflection of our bundles of self.” I understood him to mean we could cultivate selflessness through deeply understanding the transient nature of self.

Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield reminded us of the parting of the Red Sea, and related how ancient Jewish teachers reflected on the suffering of the Egyptians. He spoke of a passage in the book on a program devoted to resolving differences between Israeli and Palestinian children, and their visit to the Holocaust Museum in New York. An Israeli girl is overcome with emotion and leans on a Palestinian girl. Meanwhile a Palestinian writes in Arabic in the guestbook, “Death to all Jews.” Rabbi Hirschfield reflected that as so often happens they could only see pain as a reflection of their own pain, and not the same pain.

Later, Kyogen Carlson referred to the same passage: later in the program an offhand remark, “well maybe one less bomber,” caused a Palestinian girl to find that empathy, when she vividly understood, “you think we’re all terrorists.”

Jacqueline Mandell told a touching story from her own past. She grew up in the rural south, with the Ku Klux Klan marching regularly in the streets. When Jacqueline’s grandmother first moved there, she quickly learned that generosity must be secret when she was informed by neighbors she must never pay her maid overtime. When Jacqueline first encountered Buddhist teaching on generosity in Bodh Gaya, India, she broke down and cried in recognition. She found a home in that open-hearted generosity, and wanted no more secrecy.

Paul Metzger, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, focused on stories of Christians in the book. He told of a German Christian who stood in opposition to Hitler, and a Christian man who was called by God to work on race reconciliation after being nearly beaten to death.

Questions to the panel consistently carried the theme, “How do I incorporate this in my own life?” Responses in essence were, “Cultivate the intention, and remember we all struggle.” Rabbi Hirschfield said that for him it was a “constant mantra.” He spoke of “plowing and seeding the field of my soul,” and cultivating a “constant repetition of that attitude.” He said, “There is no place the divine is not…and each moment can reveal the divine.” Dr. Metzger went further than the book, believing an important task is learning “how to work together while holding our differing beliefs.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Guilt, Gratitude and a Full Life

Please pardon me if I ramble, I must dash in twenty minutes. I've gone through a flurry of housekeeping in the last couple of weeks, and plan to do more. It's funny how an accumulation of things will stick around in my house because I feel I ought to keep them. There's the ubiquitous gifts from family that don't quite fit me, we all do that. There's the things I mean to get to, and I hang on to them because I'm not only holding on to the physical stuff, but to the myth that I really will get to them.

I'm ready to dump the guilt. I did so with two boxes of magazines. I've been subscribing to The Writer and Poets and Writers Magazine for several years. (My husband said, "You carry a lot of guilt about writing, don't you?) I really used to read magazines, but somehow when I started getting these a few years back, I ran out of time for them. So I let them pile up. And I kept them because I thought they'd contain valuable knowledge for me, a writer. So there's an added guilt, as my husband could see, that I wasn't really supporting my writing, wasn't really pursuing it and giving it the chance it deserved. Then there's the other guilt, the Buddhist guilt. That guilt says I shouldn't consume more than I need, so I must look at the magazines eventually because otherwise that would be a waste.

So I quickly pawed through the tables of contents, and found I really should have cancelled The Writer after a year. All the articles were pretty much the same half-dozen, telling one how to be a best-seller. They all would start with numbers, such as "7 Ways to Start a Novel," "14 Things Every Writer Should Know to Get Published," "5 Ways You Really Will F*ck Yourself" You get the drift. Now if I can squeeze in the time, I really want to do more dumping of the guilt and get rid of all this stuff plaguing me: too many library books, too many little googaws squirreled away, filling my closets to the brim.

And I really want to write my novel.

The trouble is I have a hard time saying no. A new friend told me I'm like a raccoon (or I think a crow): I like shiny things, I am easily distracted by the new bright luminous thing or bit of knowledge that life has to offer. I am so grateful that I have such goodness in my life: Buddhism, polyamory, my relationships, friendships, Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I'm grateful I can support Buddhism in Portland, but the organizing that comes with that takes a lot of time.

So I have a full life, but well, I may not get that novel done before I'm 50, and I just turned 38.

Speaking of organizing, Change Your Mind Day: A Buddhist Festival was a great success. Pictures are here, more to come. This year, thankfully, Tricycle did follow through and publish a report about us.

Ok, gotta dash...

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Fun With Google News Alerts

I've set up a few google news alerts to let me know every time certain subjects pop up. For instance, I want to know every time "Buddhist Peace Fellowship" surfaces in the news. I also am quite curious to hear about polyamory in the news. It gets interesting as Google includes many sites as "news" sources that I normally wouldn't stumble across: Some of them blogs, some of them conservative Christian "news" sources like WorldNetDaily. Their motto is "A Free Press For a Free People". The headline across the top today, really an ad for a book: "'Miracles' driving massive growth of Christianity."

Those folks at WorldNetDaily are really concerned about polyamory, of course, and any other wild deviance that defies their God. In December this columnist thought he'd be funny about a conference held by the American Academy of Religion. Tried to say he was bored thinking about all that deviant sexuality (when he was the one that cooked up all those titles to amuse and horrify the prudish readers).

And then there's the National Review Online, where contributing editor Stanley Kurtz continued to attempt the polyamory scare tactic over gay marriage rights. The old, next thing you know, more than two people can marry....can't have that...

I started doing this when the news alert was still the beta version. Back then, limiting quotes didn't work, so for "Buddhist Peace Fellowship" I sometimes got obscure Christian missionary treatises with strategies to convert Buddhists.

Now that limiting quotes do work, I've also plugged in "open relationship". There's an amazing number of articles that come up about parents keeping an "open relationship" with their kids, or businesses keeping an "open relationship" with their customers through blogs. But thanks to that little search, I got the scoop on Will Smith's coming out. (Didn't Hollywood invent open relationships?) But then, there was the contradicting story, where he appears to deny he came out as poly. OK, I know, old news now and probably a ploy to draw attention to his movie Hitch.

It's usually nice to see polyamory come up in Q&A columns. They're usually pretty straightforward and accepting. At, "Dear Ari" gives worthy advice on "building unconventional families."

Google includes a news source I won't find on my library's list of news sites: college and university student papers. Like the advice columns, these are usually accepting as well as exploratory.

Usually I get some paper's religion calendar for "Buddhist Peace Fellowship". Today I got a fairly local religion calendar for the polyamory alert. I finally find near the bottom that the Unitarians will have a sermon titled "From Abstinence to Polyamory". Those wacky Unitarians, if you don't fit in anywhere, you just might fit in there. They are at least poly-friendly. Funny thing about the Corvallis religion calendar, what I found most useful were the Buddhist calendar listings...more contacts for my address book, and another strategy for finding new Buddhist contacts.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A Poem

Funny how that happens, spring arrives and one of those sap-is-rising poems comes to me.

spring's song

the wind
wraps around
my calves
travels up
under my short skirt

a teasing suggestion
of a hand
asking permission
to enter

to ravish me
and celebrate
the lascivious display
of life all around

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Book: I started reading Why We Love by Helen Fisher sometime in August or September, put it down, and finally finished it sometime in December 2004. I've mentioned earlier that I found it useful in understanding the biochemistry of love. Near the end, I also found the strategies useful that Dr. Fisher gave for getting over a love. Among them were doing new things, keeping busy, getting exercise. These help raise natural dopamine levels. She also suggested doing new and exciting things together as a means to sustain an existing love, again to raise the dopamine levels. Considering she recommended these strategies that work with our bodies' nature, I thought she rather cavalierly dismissed polyamory as idealistic and impractical, tossing off jealousy as a reason it just couldn't work. She seems to pick and choose where we can make choices, depending on what she's trying to prove. It's still a useful book for understanding the nature of love.

Book: Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold is a great escape book. A girl raised by wolves could possibly be a lost princess. The author hints that this is a world previously colonized by a more advanced people, and it's possible "magic" is magic, or lost technology. With the court intrigue of a medieval age, SCA types would love this, I imagine. On the other hand, pagans would also love this for the wise royal animals, and the protagonist's ongoing wish to really be a wolf. A great combination of passion and complexity, but not too complex, this is good for forgetting about yourself, work, the world, etc. This review assumes it takes place on Earth, but this could be a new world colonized long before. The first of four books, I suspect as different alliances unwind between the countries, more history will come to light.

DVD: I guess I'm going to have to stop saying, "I'm not into anime," since I love Cowboy bebop, and anything by the director of Spirited Away. I just saw Tokyo Godfathers and I loved it. In an interview, the director said most anime is about cute girls, robots, and explosions. This one isn't. Three homeless people find an abandoned baby on Christmas night. They call her Kiyoko, for being so 'pure' on this purest of nights. This movie is a cross between one of my favorites, Raising Arizona, and It's a Wonderful Life. Like the baby in Raising Arizona, Kiyoko causes all sorts of fortunate circumstances to arise simply by being in the vicinity. She's the angel that inspires her godfathers to their full potential: the teenage runaway CAN go home; the middle-aged drop-out can become an action hero and a worthy father; the poetic drag queen can make the sacrifices of a mother for her family.

Website: Here's a nifty new website for library users. Everybody wants to be notified before their items are due, but that would bog down our telephone and computer notification system. They finally have their wish with I find myself wondering how a library gets listed on their system, because I know people who use our library as well as neighboring Clackamas County or Fort Vancouver. My sweetie might be pleased to know his home town's library is listed. I find myself wanting a bookmark to hand to those families who all have separate cards and all use them, and one harried mother or father feels compelled to keep track of the different due dates.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Listed Here

I got a very complimentary listing in a Zen publication online.

I am very tickled.

It is Zen Unbound. Because the editor lists links alphabetically, I happen to be at the top!

I would say more, but I'm off to the coast for a few days.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Liberation, Part 2: Buddhism and Polyamory

After years of Buddhist practice (not just meditation, but working through karma) I became less chained by conditions and conditioning, and opened up to the myriads of possibilities. I could more easily see the choice I have before I lock into conditioning because much of the conditioning had been swept away or transformed or at least revealed. Often we feel like we have no choice in our actions, but we do, always. This Buddhist practice gave me the skill and the understanding to see that. This is a lived expression of the Buddhist saying from Dogen:

To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one's self and others.

When the myriad possibilities open up, it is the same point (I think) where one is enlightened by all things. When the conditioning no longer rules you, that is where you have forgotten the self. When you begin to act where you choose from the myriad possibilities, that is where you can truly connect with others. You can make choices based on the best possibilities, rather than the ego possibilities, the conditioned possibilities, the misguided self-preservation possibilities. As with anything that is a practice, this is not a linear process and I'm still always studying pieces of me.

OK, go from there to open loving. Societal expectations are karmic conditions. In polyamory, we dare to say that we can choose how our relationships look, we can choose the ways in which we love more than one, and we can do so with integrity. We recognize societal expectations of monogamy as conditions that we can choose or not choose. The wonderful thing is, when we choose not to limit our loving, we give ourselves many opportunities to learn and practice the letting go of self that brings us to that final part of that Buddhist formula, removing the barriers between ourselves and others. Because I had opened up to myriad possibilities, I think the possibility of polyamory came along for me, and now that I'm living it, I am learning and continuing to learn about more of those subtle barriers and how they can be dissolved. Many of those barriers have to do with debilitating judgments about others and our selves.

Finally, it is possible dissolve such judgments so much so that we can truly have love for anyone. In polyamory some call this Love of All, in Buddhism, loving-kindness. Since I have opened my heart even more in this polyamorous path, I have become more appreciative of the Buddhist practices of loving-kindness and tonglen, which are not Zen practices. I have also felt more of an aspiration to be a bodhisattva, felt myself to be a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva continually turns over her practice to the weal of the world, not for the sake of self but for the sake of enlightenment of all. One of my teachers once put it, "a bodhisattva is an enlightened codependent." I feel this especially in the practice of love. An unenlightened codependent puts others before herself as a way to establish control or because she doesn't feel she deserves anything. An enlightened codependent has no concern for self but is concerned instead for Love itself, concerned for the weal of all.

At first glance, many people think non-monogamy is not compatible with Buddhism. The second noble truth links our suffering in this life to desire, craving. While desires of the body are included in that, this noble truth really points to the attachments and aversions of an ego that seeks to keep certain formations solid. When this being, made up of heaps of body, emotions, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness, wants to preserve those heaps, that is the desire referred to.

It is easy to comprehend the attachments we form to pleasures of the body. It's also easy to ban them, as these often were for monks and nuns. It's not so easy to understand that when Buddhist sects say this is the only way to liberation, these sects have also succumbed to the traps of attachment and aversion. This human body is naturally part of myself, intimately connected to and influencing my thoughts and habits. Like any drug, the neurochemistry of love can produce addictive behavior. The question is, will I be ruled by that, or can I let go when appropriate? I am not only this biochemical machine. The practice of living this life does not necessarily spurn this body's natural function, nor does it try to hang on to it. The ideal doesn't necessarily look like celibacy, or monogamy, or polyamory. The ideal meets each moment with letting go, choosing, letting go, choosing, letting go.

The Buddhist precepts are guidelines that help us to follow the 4th Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path. In some cases they are expressed more absolutely, in other cases with room for relativity. Some people might say that non-monogamy violates the precept, "Do not misuse sexuality." Most often it is interpreted in the ways in which society accepts sexuality, but that is not necessarily the natural response to sexuality. In my tradition, one has a relationship to the precepts, and my expression of them will not look the same as my friend's, or my teacher's. Even in this, it is possible to fall into a trap that says that enlightened expressions of the precepts will look the same because there is some absolute reality to enlightenment. In my case I strongly believe that I would misuse sexuality if I demanded sexual exclusivity of my lover. I do not own him or her. In fact, to me this would violate another precept, "Do not take the gift not given (do not steal)."

In our Dharma School, we sing a song about the Buddha's life, that time when he first visited the outside world and saw sickness, old age, death, and a holy man. A line in the refrain goes, "And he found liberation, which neither comes nor goes." Buddhism is about finding that liberation, but Buddhism would not say the path to that liberation must look a certain way. Liberation is possible in any kind of life, some more difficult than others, but still possible. Because of societal biases towards monogamy and celibacy as a spiritual ideal, from the outside it looks like polyamory could be one of those more difficult paths. Now that I'm a few years into it, I find rather that it fosters spiritual connections. Practice in intimacy breeds more meaningful intimacy. When approached with mindful honesty and integrity, "many loves" becomes love of many, no conditions attached.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Liberation, Part 1

In May this last year, I interviewed with a writer for Just Out, Portland's GLBT newspaper. Pat planned to write an article on Buddhists who are not heterosexual, and after making queries she interviewed four people in my sangha. She wished to convey that Buddhism as it is practiced here is inclusive of people of alternative sexual persuasions. Before I interviewed, I was feeling some anxiety about being more out. As someone involved in ecumenical Buddhist activities, writing for NW Dharma News and acting as contact for the Portland BPF, I know that some of the people I encounter would be disturbed by my polyamorous activities.

I'm sure anybody who's done an interview can relate:

I felt really good about it. We talked at least an hour, and she asked me probing questions that encouraged me to dig for insight into myself. I especially liked that she asked me what I thought polyamory and Buddhism shared, and I realized that I love and appreciate these two paths because they are affirming, are inclusive, operate from an ethical understanding, and are liberating. It took awhile for the article to go to print, as other more timely issues were claiming priority.

When it did go to press in October, my hour long interview yielded a few quotes, and at least one mistake. (My husband is not Buddhist, in fact I explicitly stated he leans towards atheism.) She asked us all about a quote by the Dalai Lama because that had given her editor the idea that Buddhism is a homophobic religion, so our quotes included these almost irrelevant responses to something he said. We are all Zen folks, living in the USA, how relevant would HH the Dalai Lama's views on sexuality be to us? There was nothing about that transformative moment when I listed those qualities that polyamory and Buddhism shared.

I was happy with the process though. Since then my awareness of polyamory as a spiritual path in itself has blossomed. It was right around the time of the interview that I joined the Spiritual Polyamory yahoo group. Doing the interview made me more comfortable with being more out, and I looked forward to finding my name in the local gay rag. After all, the readership would be the accepting sort. I've come to feel an increasing certainty that it is important to recognize that non-monogamy and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. It is important to recognize that polyamory provides a fertile ground for loving action, openness, and connectedness: vital forces for a strong spiritual focus. The dialogs in this yahoo group have made me realize that for some people polyamory arises out of their natural spiritual impulses. Having lived in a society that views non-monogamy only through the spectrum of adultery, which includes lying and deception, our natural spiritual and sexual impulses toward this connection and unity have been tainted with shame and guilt. This view cannot imagine that love could deepen and trust could expand through polyamory.

Yet so many people who dare to love more than one person find their love does indeed deepen. I have fallen in love with two people since I met my husband and main squeeze, and each time my love for him has reached new depths. He accepted and supported me while I rocked through the rollercoaster of strong new emotions; he held my heart gently when those loves didn't work out. My gratitude knows no bounds. I have learned incredible things about myself and human nature through those loves, something that might never have happened if I were in a monogamous relationship. How liberating love is, even when painful.

In the next part, I will explore how I've found my Buddhist path and my poly path have informed each other.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A Word a Day

Who needs yet another bulk daily email? This one's worth it, A Word a Day. I have a pretty decent vocabulary. Close friends sometimes tease me for using less-than-normal words. More often than not, I don't know the word of the day.

Everybody loves an educational tool like this. Educators use it to liven up their classrooms. The Wall Street Journal likes it for keeping "boredom at bay." The WSJ mentions about a half a million people in more than two hundred countries subscribe to AWAD, that each week has a theme, but doesn't mention the author's delightfully devious use of the daily word to spread messages of peace.

This week features words borrowed from other languages than English, and not the usual ones like Spanish or French. Anu Garg, originally from India, informs us today that 2005 has been designated The Year of Languages in the US. This sly pacifist says the most crucial reason to learn another language is that "once we speak the language of a people, it's much harder to hate them. And once they are no longer alien to us, it's much more difficult to drop bombs on them."

Every day also features a quote which often carries a message of peace.