It turns out the Empire State Building is open til midnight. I had no clue. I also had no clue that I'd just walked within a couple of blocks of it. Why not?
I needed to find a store, and I spotted a Kmart at the ground floor of a tall building. It turned out the basement exit flushed me out into Penn Station. I was in Penn Station! Then, to the Empire State Building. Long wait for tickets, then long wait for the elevators. Not as long as it could be though. I was reminded of the lines at Marriott's Great America when I was a kid. I'm so clueless, got off one elevator and didn't realize they were sending me to another elevator. Well they didn't send me and I ended up in a line to go back down. Ah well. I had time to see the goofy souvenir photos. (Why would someone want to go on a virtual tour of New York when they're in New York and can see it? And then take a souvenir photo with the skyline?) Then they sent me up to the observation deck.
Some teen girls kept saying, "That fog is so creepy." I thought it looked cool, the clouds swirling around the spire above us. Time to head back, too much time on my feet. I think it was on this walk back to the hotel that I saw a two-inch cockroach scrabble across the sidewalk. When I spoke to him on the phone, that prompted my husband to ask if I'd seen any rats. No rats. No panhandlers either. I think he was hanging out in a different part of town when he was there.
The next morning, actually, more like around noon, I set out to find the little Greek coffee shop I'd seen on my earlier meanderings. I didn't, of course, but I found the Starbucks. The mocha was better than Starbucks here in Portland. Hmmm. So was the coffee cake, sweeter and moister. Then, on to MOMA. I saw someone taking photos. Taking photos?! I asked one of the many staff standing around. Yes, but no flash. How could I resist? Me and Starry Starry Night. Me and Monet. Panorama of the most breathtaking Reflections of Clouds on the Water Lily Pond. I kind of forgot to eat. Over three hours to meander from bottom to top, wish I could have lingered.
Next stop, the library of course. First I wandered the MOMA store and got a few presents to take home. The library looked closed. I was confused, and am still confused because the website says open 9-9 on Mondays, but the wrought iron in front of the doors were closed and no one went in or out. Ah well. I sat on the steps where some street performers danced on the sidewalk. They kept having false starts because they needed the audience to block foot traffic. Otherwise people just walked right through, never mind that they might get kicked in the head by some gymnastic-hip-hop-break-dancers. They had DVDs for sale, and I accidentally got one because I didn't have a smaller bill than a ten for the bucket. After seeing the routine for about the third time (and a half-dozen false starts) I hopped on a bus headed in the direction of West 23rd.
I landed in front of the Flat Iron building. It was while on that bus that I saw the Museum of Sex. Oh man, I wanted to check that out, but it would have to be in the morning. Who could miss it, when the sign on the street said something about no licking or fondling of the exhibits allowed? Across the street from the Flat Iron building, I found Madison Square Park with the Shake Shack busily selling burgers, cheese fries and custard. Veggie burger? Even better, a fried Portobello mushroom stuffed with a white cheese and onions, topped with their special shack sauce. I made up for not eating since the noon hour coffee and crumb cake. I think the custard even beat The Point back in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin for best custard.
Back at the hotel, I flopped on the couch in the lobby. (I probably wasn't supposed to flop.) I've never been in a hotel before where I wanted to sit around in the lobby. An artist was painting the lobby, walls distorted, all the furniture floating near the ceiling. (David Combs ...not the one pictured at his site, a new one) The man who showed me my room went out the front door, probably for a cig. The other front desk guy came over and asked if I was staying there, and what room was I in? I showed him my key. He did a double take. Hmmm, why the surprise? Could it be he didn't expect that I was staying there? It seems a lot of people come into the Chelsea without checking in, hoping to gain access to the back hallways and the doors to famous peoples' rooms. That happened at least once while I hovered at the desk to ask a question.
The next morning all the activity caught up with me, I was slow to pack and check out at noon. No Museum of Sex for me this time.
Finally, finished. I hope you enjoyed it. You can see photos here. For some reason blogger is not letting me upload photos.
Friday, July 28, 2006
It turns out the Empire State Building is open til midnight. I had no clue. I also had no clue that I'd just walked within a couple of blocks of it. Why not?
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
When I last left off writing I had just arrived at the Hotel Chelsea. I was led to my room by the bellhop, I suppose that was his title. I wasn't clear (not that it mattered) because he also answers the phone and I didn't know if that was the term used these days. Before he unlocked my door, he led me to the stairwell and showed me how the art lines the walls all up and down the floors, and told me I could also enter the hallways where more paintings could be found. From the way some of the pieces incorporated the theme "I love Hotel Chelsea," and that there were multiple pieces from the same artists, I got the feeling some artists had worked for their room at the Chelsea.
I've never stayed in a hotel where the bellhop brought your luggage and unlocked the door for you and checked the room that everything was in order. Suddenly I realized I had no idea what to tip, so I found a few bucks and hoped I wasn't too gauche (I'm sure I was). Of course it also felt kind of odd after I had hauled my luggage from train to subway, up and down stairs and across the street to have someone ease the load for a few steps and an elevator ride. I immediately shucked my outer shirt (it was hot and muggy still) while he tested the ancient air conditioner and said, "This hotel is old school." He said, "If you need anything, just pick up that phone and dial zero."
I rested, cooled down for a bit, then went back down to take a walk and take in the New York streets, just see what I could see, maybe find some of that famous NY pizza.
As I wandered from West 23rd Street to Madison Square Garden and back, a smile tugged on my face and I saw it reflected in the people around me. It seemed like everyone knew and shared in my delight. Something that grabbed my attention more than the tall buildings were the architectural details that graced their sides. Lofty ideals embodied in words and mythic creatures found the hidden patriot in this peacenik.
I came to realize something on that scintillescent walk. A long time ago, when I was 30, I fell in love in a way that broke open my heart like never before. In the time since I have fallen in love several more times, including with my current husband. I have come to believe that falling in love happens because a person is ripe for it, that moments and conditions and hopefully the right person come along and a person just tips over from being full of potential into a waterfall of love. I could see that it made complete sense that in that awakening of my heart I also experienced a need to withdraw from the thin-skinned world of Zen meditation retreats.
In that bright clear world I could fall in love with all around me, so readily. Some part of me knew I needed to withdraw while I learned to fall in love and get back up without doing damage to me and others. My Buddhist practice naturally flowed toward service and kindness toward others. Love informs. Falling in love keeps my heart tender. So here I was again, a thin bag of skin filled with love just ready to flow into a ready vessel, fresh from a gathering where I'd straddled the worlds of activity and stillness, and I knew I could love just as was needed, and accept, just as was needed, and let go, just as needed.
I did happen upon a brick oven pizza place, where I ate a slice of marguerite pizza, almost as good as my favorite place here in Portland, Apizza Scholls. Back at the hotel I saw some other guests picking out brochures, and I gathered some touristy information to help plan my two days.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
If there's anyone reading who is eagerly looking forward to the next installment from my New York trip, I must apologize for stopping just as I hint at fun things to come. I have been uber-busy preparing for the visit of the moms, as a new friend of mine termed it. This week, my mom is coming to visit, her first visit to my home in my adult life. Packed through the years of my homemaking are memories of me thinking to myself, "If my mom saw this mess she'd be horrified." There has been a bit of comfort in knowing she wouldn't see all that mess. I tend to be messy. Perhaps my slight addiction to HGTV design shows are the yearnings of a messy wanting to impress her not-present Mom. I'm not quite sure what it will be like, having her away from her manipulative, anti-social alcoholic husband.
Well, I did learn some things from watching Design on a Dime and Mission: Organization, and my husband and I have been busy putting the guest wing (otherwise known as the bachelor pad) into some kind of order and presentability. Late nights, allergens, physical exertion, I'm just too tired to put the kind of energy into remembering and writing about my trip that I would like to, so it may be a while before I get back to it. I will though. It is a memory worth keeping.
So, starting on Thursday, I get to show my mom My Life, but not all of it. It would open just too big a can of worms to tell her about my supraloving life, and I don't wish that to muck up the short visit. It won't be easy, me being the forthright person that I am. As I said to Krissy and Steve, my problem is that if a conversation is going in a certain direction and the natural answer to a question is to reveal certain aspects of my life, I do. It doesn't occur to me that I don't need to go there. How could I begin to explain that my husband loving another woman has brought more love into my life? She would never get that, but simply believe I was merely tolerating that, and acting a slut to retaliate. (I do still have some friends who say, "And you're OK with that?") It will make it easier that I don't have some pent-up need to reveal my true self to my mom. I love her, but don't have much in common with her any more.
A couple weeks later, my mom-in-law comes to visit. We are also not out to her. Before we got married, she liked referring to herself and her husband as my out-laws. I wonder if she'd like to be an out-law again? Steve doesn't think so. Tomorrow, the final mile-long to-do list, along with the help of professionals for house cleaning and yard work.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
I've been going to the farmers market again, something that inspires me to be more creative about cooking. There's always some live music, usually the fiddle type. There's food to eat there, and food to take home. I go to the East Bank market on Thursdays. (They're all packing up at the end of the day in the photo.)
The folks who managed it previously moved away, and now Portland Farmers Market manages it. I've liked the Thursday market because it's not so busy and hectic as some of the other ones. At first didn't seem to be as homey as it was last year. The band was amplified, but now the small 2-3 person bluegrass type band is back, the sort of band that just plain asks for the cute 4 year olds to dance close and twirl.
A few weeks back I discovered something they call a Mediterranean squash. You can treat it like zucchini or yellow squash. It is light green with a lighter striation. I sauteed it with some white pepper.
Yesterday, I grilled it. I went all out and made a nice dinner for my sweetie and his sweetie. I had a bag of salad greens from the market, blueberries, shallots, orange tomatoes. I had free bread. We can never eat a whole loaf of hearty bread before it gets moldy. The market was closing, and I approached the Great Harvest booth, asking what they'd charge for the pieces left from their sample loaves. They just gave them to me, and tried to give me all of it, more than a whole loaf. I thought I'd make a blueberry salad dressing if I could, so I googled a bit, and found several versions of a savory blueberry sauce recommended for chicken.
Poking my head in the freezer, I found a package of veat, my favorite substitute for chicken in recipes. So I decided to go ahead and grill it as well as bake my Worthington Dinner Roast. I turned the grill down fairly low to bake the roast that way rather than heat up the house. An old school veggie meat, this is still my favorite to replace turkey at Thanksgiving. As far as I know the only place you can get this in Portland is the Daily Grind. That store is also old school vegetarian, it's original owners being Seventh Day Adventists. Different owners now, but they still carry the products.
I had fresh thyme (that I still need to plant) from the market, as well as rosemary for the savory blueberry sauce. I was taking a bold step, trying something I was sure none of us had encountered before, but fairly certain we'd like it. I used a nicer wine than one usually would for cooking, but we would drink the rest at dinner. I made some garlic butter for the bread, which I wrapped in foil and put in the grill. I also cut up an almost stale french baguette for croutons...a little oil, salt, some leftover garlic butter, tossed in a little foil bowl that also went on the little upper shelf in the grill.
Somehow it all came together and all the food was done just as Krissy arrived. Then I fussed over them and worried it would get cold while they lingered over the salad. Krissy's rather active in the zine world and is gearing up for the Zine Symposium. I told her I was thinking I would try to put one together, gathering together some writings I've done on my poly and Buddhist path. She was all for it, and we three spent a good amount of time talking about what it means to be poly and how it works well. She's looked around and around for information that spoke to her situation, but a lot of what she's found is aimed toward couples opening up their relationships. Nothing for someone who'd formerly thought of herself as monogamous, but then finds herself involved with a non-monogamous man. Krissy has a friend who has always considered herself polyamorous, but circumstances put her in a dyad. She really liked the way her friend expressed an inherent flexibility, "It depends on who you're with."
We had some more wine. Drove to Dairy Queen just in time before it closed, and all three of us had chocolate dipped cones. It was a very fine evening with my family.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
I guess technically the day I arrived was my first experience of New York City, but I never emerged to the street, staying underground and inside buildings as I wended my way toward the train and Garrison, NY. Riding the subway felt quite familiar. How could I not know how it worked, having seen so many movies featuring the subway? The bump and roll felt just like my own city's light rail above ground. Of course, figuring out where to go was another matter. Looking for Grand Central, I was studying a map on the wall and trying to figure out just where I was. A janitor noticed and asked where I was going. He told me what direction I wanted. I thanked him and he said, "I love you" as he walked away. (Is this a New York thing? I got one of those squashed pennies at the Empire State Building, it said "I love you.")
I wasn't afraid to ask, and I still had my map from the hotel. The first person I asked said, "First you take the shuttle, then you take your local." (local? I figured I'd find out when I got there.) Then, there were trains 1, 2, and 3. I looked at the map. They all looked like they went to the same place, that's good. Wait a minute, the announcer just said something about express, I guess that means local makes all the stops? I approach the nearest person casually waiting alone. "Does the number next to the spot on the map mean the train stops there?" I showed him the map and he confirmed. We had a little conversation about why I was there, my first trip to New York, etc. Again the meeting of the eyes, just a little longer than expected. This was happening to me a lot this week. Yeah, I know what that means, but I didn't take it that way at the Gathering (but it sure stirred me up). Here, it made the day just a bit more pleasant to know this handsome tawny-skinned man was creating a conversation with me so he could keep that eye contact a little bit longer.
I was waiting for the right train. I got on, headed toward the Hotel Chelsea. No, wait, "wahh wa wahhh wah is express. This is the last stop for this train until 14th. 2 and 3 trains are local." (but this is 1, this is supposed to be local?) I got off. I asked somebody else, a young couple. "Are they saying the 1 is now express, and the 2 and 3 are local? Is that what that sign means?" I vaguely recalled a friend telling me it could get confusing because they changed things like this. I couldn't see any handy elevators so I dragged my wheeled luggage up and down to the other side of the platform. Soon the young couple followed, said sorry for almost steering me wrong. Another man who was quite convinced the 2 was supposed to be Express walked about stiff-legged in urgent confusion. So even the locals might not understand what's going on.
In hindsight I realized it might have been quicker and easier on my back just to walk at that point, but I had no idea how long the blocks were. I wouldn't trade that moment, though, when I emerged from the nether regions of the city up onto the corner of West 23rd and 7th. It was as if awareness of myself unfolded from my skin to meet a world that again felt familiar and close to me. I could say to some Buddhists or New Agers, "Maybe I spent a past life here," and they would take it seriously. I could also say, "Maybe it's because so many movies have featured New York street scenes, and that has bred familiarity." It certainly felt like something flat coming to full vibrant life to me. I'm not sure it matters, but it had a miraculous feel to it.
I know it had something to do with how happy I felt from the BPF Gathering, and that I continued to feel so connected even to strangers. The world buzzed with ripe potential. If I was a fruit, I was ready to be plucked. I was brimful of love with no particular object to rest it on. My bag of skin barely held me in from the sky.
I was nearly there. I crossed the street and walked down the block, passed under the scaffolding to reach the front door of the Hotel Chelsea. I approached the front desk, where two people waited. I met the eyes of the one standing, and I was transported into a notion that I should step forward and hug this man, hug him as I would a familiar friend, as I would a beloved, much like I had been hugging so many people at the Gathering. I caught myself, I didn't step forward towards this very familiar feeling. One didn't just greet a stranger, one who was just doing his job, with a heartfelt hug. The moment passed, how long it was I do not know, and our eyes disengaged and I looked toward the other man who held the list of reservations. I handed him my card, filled out my information, and the first man stepped around the desk and reached for my bags, leading me to my room on the 8th floor.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Now something I have noticed in the peace community, and especially among the Buddhist peace community, is a certain shadow side when it comes to language. Certainly it is a good thing to be aware of language and how there are unconscious messages of violence, and practice ways to change those messages to peaceful ones. Sometimes it can be a way of unconsciously controlling others and one's own sensory input. At one point I asked a couple of women how they were liking the weekend. One was very excited, very happy. The other was concerned about the language some people were using. What language? The anti-war messages. She had a very pained look on her face. We had a little conversation about people speaking from their pain, I think.
In some cases this is the fervor of the recently converted. I don't know how many times I've been asked if I've been to a Non-Violent Communication workshop. (This slightly, but only slightly, soured a strong feeling of connection I was making with somebody.) Actually, for years I have been studying and practicing peaceful conflict management, thank you. How is this different? Or, worse, somebody asks me that because they think I need it. Hmmm. Is that how NVC works, you tell someone they could use it? Am I being too direct for NVC? Or is it because if I am to have a position of leadership in peace stuff I should have the credentials, and those credentials should be NVC? (No, I didn't ask that, but I thought it.)
Someone asked Alan a question about arguments, how she grew up in a Jewish household in which argument was a game of conversation. Alan too grew up in a household with the language of argument, but it wasn't fun. He had a very good answer I will try to use when this inevitably comes up. Our language is very steeped in culture, and we need to honor that. So the language from Brooklyn is just not going to be the same as a Midwest suburban home, and we can be mindful of that.
I started out here thinking also of an incident with the one of calm and soothing voice. At the end of the gathering she approached me and suggested when we rang the bell, we did so 108 times. Lemme back up a moment. An attendee told us of a nationwide effort to ring a bell at noon as a way to say 'no more torture.' We all thought it a great idea. As I mentioned, the strategic plan conversation went over time, so our dedication was going to put us past the noon mark. Judy suggested ringing 108 times to avoid an awkward pause, as well, she said, to calm people down, as she felt they needed to do for the dedication. (It turned out the 108 bells took too much time, and I was with her until the 'they need it' line, but oh well.)
Now, Judy really likes bells. Imagine if you will a mindfulness flourish. Judy rings bells with a mindfulness flourish. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I started to realize proposing the 108 bell idea to the group maybe wasn't so great when Judy took the bell away from me and mindfully placed it on the floor and raised her hand with the striker above her head, bringing it down to the bowl to strike. (this was going to take a long time, and I would need the bell for the dedication.) Come to think of it, I guess this is about language, too. At some point, Judy realized this was taking way too long, or maybe she meant to do this, but she gradually sped up the pace of her bell-ringing. Viki told me later she had to turn down her hearing aids because of the cacophony.
So then, the dedication. I was holding the mike in one hand, the striker in the other, to tink the bell when we came on certain names in the lineage, as we do when we chant this thing. I had the bell on a chair in front of me, and Judy sat next to me. When it came time to tink the bell, she reached around the chair back to hold the bell for me. Now that's sweet, I suppose, but I waived her hand away for the next one. This was distracting to me, I haven't led chanting in a long while and I needed to concentrate. As far as I could tell, the bell was in no danger of upset, but Judy reached around again to hold the bell. Ah, there must be a bit of control there.
And here perhaps is the shadow side. As peace loving beings, should we not always behave peacefully, mindfully, carefully? We cannot allow anomalies. We must control. We must keep errors of language out of the room. Peace is about loving connections, but the shadow is its opposite, controlling separations. To be truly peaceful, it is better to acknowledge the shadow, allow it to arise and fall. Allow mistakes, allow ragged jarring emotions, allow some messiness, be aware of violent intention toward others, whether conscious or unconscious. This goes hand in hand with a Buddhist practice, which is all about making the unconscious conscious so we are no longer ruled by it.
As this conference/retreat went on, the interconnected energy of the folks there grew to a ripe fullness in a way I haven't experienced in retreats, nor in a similarly structured weekend training through the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Maybe it's because of the position I was in, being responsible for coordinating the rituals, or the space of mind I was in to, receptive to the vibes of the group, but I think it was also because of the nature of the gathering. Maia said in a post-gathering email, "Probably the most important thing all of us did was get to know each other better... as Viki from Seattle reminded us, building relationships needs to be the foundation for all of our work. I am so grateful for the time we had to learn, practice, and break bread together and strengthen those relationships."
We had time for reflection before dinner on Friday and Saturday, based on the Meeting of Friends' worship sharing. To introduce it I read a quote from the North Pacific Yearly Meeting website. This filled a need exactly as I'd hoped it would: we could share as a group the things that had touched us as we went our separate ways during the day, in a thoughtful, mindful way. As I said in our first Reflection period, I enjoyed being able to meet people's eyes and get hugs, not something that happens in meditation retreats. Alan Senauke lightened the mood with the poem Meditation on Grasping and Clinging by Barton Stone, which tells us birth and death are relentless and proceeds to list all the things that will not save you, for example, "Organic produce will not save you/ Your vows will not save you/ Mutual funds will not save you...Extended orgasms will not save you..." (damn!)
Saturday evening we had a 'peace jam'. One or two poems were shared. Alan gets more animated talking about music than he does about Zen (sometimes). If you follow this link, Alan is the one on the right.
We'd been told to bring our songs, our poems, our instruments. I brought a toy wooden fish drum, at least I can keep a beat if I can't keep a tune. A woman I'd met, formerly from around here, but who now lives in New York, led us in beginning a body-drumming session. She has the kind of voice you'd like to hear in a relaxation spa, hypnotic, cadence slow and thoughtful. Judy instructed us to put a hand to our chest, to listen to the frogs, the rain patter, feel our heartbeat. Listen to the world's rhythm, feel how it fits in with our own, and start a beat along with our own heartbeat. It was something that started out slowly, concentrating on my own heartbeat and trying not to switch to my neighbors'. Soon some started adding voice, or other sounds. The clink of a pen on glass. I picked up my drum, drawn to the bumpy fin where I could scrape the stick and mimic the call of the frogs. We didn't get all too wild, and somehow one or two drew it down, brought us to quiet again.
We moved on. Alan sang a great song about Bodhisattva Never Disparages, a bodhisattva most sacred to the Nichiren-Shu. No matter what anybody does to him, this bodhisattva always bows and says "I will never disparage you, I will never despise you. I know you will be a Buddha someday." He also sang a Tom Waits song that mentions a bodhisattva. Then Rick from Florida picked up his guitar and shared a song I know from our Buddhist Sunday school. "There's ol' Buddha, sitting under that Bodhi Tree (bodhi tree)..." (At my Zen Center we sing it faster....got a lotta songs to sing, after all.)
I hadn't thought I had anything to bring, but after the body-drumming, I wasn't ready for that sort of thing to end, so I suggested we could do a similar sort of thing with Portland's street chant that Portland BPF also brings to the 24 Hour Chant for Peace. Maybe together we could come up with a new rhythm. We didn't, but I think I'll seed the room with sticks and shakers and other drumming things to get people inspired to make it lively. Rick also led us in Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around. Sure, we had our share of political words we stuck in there, but we also stuck Buddhist stuff into it, like "ain't gonna let no samsara turn me around..."
Jesse had commented to me that he wished he could know what people's personal practices were. So I conferred with Maia and Alan, and I asked people to think about a piece of their practice they could bring to this Sunday morning ritual. It could be a snippet from a ceremony we might otherwise not know about, something that was special to them. Together we could create a mosaic that is a BPF shared ritual. We'd had some practice in other segments of the weekend in 'sharing time equally', and around 50 people shared their practice introduction and actual piece in just a half hour. I remember a Theravadin chant in Pali. My own repeated "Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu". (Bodhisattva of Compassion, Japanese) Somebody else mentioned Kwanzeum Bosal (the same in Korean). Somebody mentioned walking as a meaningful meditation practice for them.
Finally, we got a dharma talk from Alan. All along, he sat among us, democratically, no separation. Now, he put on his rakusu and spoke with wisdom. I found myself resonating with his words on identity action. Searching for the root word, I find he has written of this before. It could be called non-duality, but I sense that doesn't quite capture it. Non-duality in action, that is what we want to cultivate. I find the word: samanattata. Some translate it "adaptability," others "putting oneself in communion". It is knowing just the right thing to do because there is no separation. Alan shifted papers in front of him, reading quotes from here, notes from there. He spoke off the cuff, didn't have a written draft, and it was a great talk. Lucinda, one of the attendees, volunteered to transcribe it.
This is our touchstone as we work for peace. This is what we were doing at the gathering, creating a space in which we connected on a personal and spiritual level. I felt as if we moved through water, each movement affecting others, each of us a bubble dancing among the waves. Identity action works with those waves, not against, because the bubbles are not separate from the waves. (There is a traditional metaphor in Buddhism about bubbles floating on the ocean, something that occurred to me after this image came up...I'm not sure if my thoughts fit with the traditional understanding.)
On that final morning we had opportunity to discuss the board's strategic plan. We'd been slightly worried that the mosaic ritual might go over time, but this was the piece that cut into lunch. Enough concerns arose that it became clear chapters and membership need a way to express their ideas to the board before it's adopted. One woman reflected my own feelings about the weekend and the people there. She said "I've fallen in love with people here, and we need to trust them to do this right." I too felt that intimacy of love.
Finally, we dedicated the merit of our gathering. It's pretty much traditional across all sects of Buddhism to dedicate the merit of a ceremony. Once or twice in the weekend someone mentioned the unheard voices, the voices of women needing to be heard. Tellingly to me, this white-haired sweet woman kept raising her hand and raising her hand while the mike kept getting handed to someone else. Even here, for a while, she wasn't seen. Appropriately we ended with a dedication that remembers the women, and we chanted the lineage of women ancestors as done at my Zen Center, with similar ones emerging elsewhere in the US. (Sallie Tisdale recently release her book, Women of the Way that tells the stories of the women's lineage, my reading material for the plane.)
I could have caught a ride with someone heading back to New York, but I opted to take the train so I could talk to Viki. We talked shop, and connections. At Grand Central Station, we parted. She took the subway to LaGuardia, me to the Hotel Chelsea. As we hugged goodbye she said, "You were the glue that held it together, Enji." (wow, who me?) I'd certainly felt a feeling of special connection to many people. It wasn't me, but I guess I was swimming in identity action. It seems to be something I think of as love.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
On Saturday afternoon (6/22) we had three hours slated for Open Space Technology. But before that was...lunch. Did I mention that the food was really good even though it was good for you? Funny thing, now I can't remember details, because there were so many other things occupying my brain. I remember a cheesy polenta, fresh salad greens at every lunch and dinner, and a barley dish better than any I've had. (That one bitter green was *not* in the salad until the very last meal....hmmmm.) Whatever it was this hour, I thought I'd wait until after a little side trip to Cold Spring, but I snagged a little just in case I ran out of time.
Chris, the really local local guy, of the Middle Way Meditation Center of Cold Spring, told us all about a little peace demo that happens (once a month? week?) on the main drag of Cold Spring. He himself hadn't had a chance to go to it because his Saturdays are usually otherwise occupied. Five or six of us carpooled just a few minutes away for the half hour vigil. I found myself holding one end of a banner and standing next to a silver-haired Vietnam vet who told me they'd been doing this since the war began, with just a short period of time when it disbanded. At first there was a counter-demo, pro-war, but that dwindled and stopped. Also at first local cops gave them a really hard time, most of them being ex-military, but that too has stopped. I was bubbling over with the idea from Aidan Delgado on sending packages to the troops, as I'd just come from that workshop. He seemed to think it a good idea too. Oh yeah, someone drove by in a pickup blaring one of those schmaltzy patriotic new country songs. I do believe I got a hug before I left. I ended up eating just a little more lunch.
I am so glad we made sure Viki from Seattle made it to the gathering. She introduced and facilitated the open space time. For those who don't know, open space is a way to have meetings that has only four rules and one law:
- Whoever comes are the right people
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could
- Whenever it starts is the right time
- Whenever it's over, it's over
The Law of Two Feet
I hadn't experienced it before, but I was the one who suggested we find a way to include it. With only 3 hours, we just had time for two sessions. As far as I know, no one really utilized the "law of two feet." Viki told me she suspected that might happen, that "Buddhists would be too polite." The second sessions were all small, people escaping from the stifling heat to rest, no doubt. We certainly had a packed schedule. Our thematic question, related to the theme of the gathering: What practices for creating peace in difficult times do we hope to learn together? (and to lead to items for action) How will we do this?
We had about 4 or 5 offerings in each session. Each one had notes and action items to come out of them, which will probably also be on the BPF website soon. I offered one based on a long-standing conundrum of mine (of any organizer I suppose) on how to get people involved and stay involved. I came up with a metaphor from physics: if you drop a balloon on a nail sticking up, it will pop, but if you drop a balloon on 10 nails, it will be held up. My topic for discussion was, "How to get more Nails?" Five or six of us talked about what our experiences in our chapters were, including Denis from my 'mentor chapter'. In fact I think that was a possible action item: identify mentor chapters. Also match chapters up with like interests. A theme from the Fundraising workshop continued here for me: work from our core values rather than focus on numbers. Maybe rather than create stratification with 'steering group' and 'members' and 'friends', simply identify a few core people who can work together to do a few tasks, and not worry about how many members we have. Another plan of action for me, rather than ask the Portland group generally about a need for more help with various tasks, ask for help with specific tasks. Denis stressed the importance that BPF chapter meetings not be about business, but practice and discussion, something that keeps people wanting to come back. Business is taken care of via email and other meetings among the core group. Actually, I just remembered a related conversation with another BPF Chapter Council member, Jeff. (During a break...the very sort of thing that inspired open space technology.) He said we (he and I) find ourselves in the position of being a leader but not trying to be an authority, that we then end up being more of a 'leader-servant'. I've really got to talk to him more about that. (Can you tell I've been over-extending myself?)
I stayed in the same room for Denis' offering, "Right Relationships". (I think he did that on purpose.) There were only 3 of us, or was it 4? Viki said often small is better, and she was right. This almost was a continuation of the previous session. No one had left, and no one wandered in, either time. (darn) Denis was thinking about the relationships between groups, and between chapters and BPF. How do we define our relationships? I took the notes for this one, which helped me see patterns develop in our conversation and zoom in on spots that needed clarifying. We identified core values that our groups would bring to relationships to other groups, and that alone was pretty impressive, I thought. I look forward to seeing the write-up, hope it still makes sense. We also got a start answering the questions, "What responsibility does BPF have to chapters?" and "What responsibility do the chapters have to BPF?" Having been on the chapter council for over a year, and dealt with non-responses from chapter contacts, I found it interesting that Denis was long on responses to the first, but not on the second. (Denis is not a chapter contact.) I got one possible solution for the non-responsiveness later from Viki: get more core member contacts from chapters, and include them in my queries.
Later, during the break, one of our a/v guys set up the pre-recorded video of Aitken Roshi's dharma talk. I wanted to watch, but I also had taken on the task of making the notes legible from both my sessions, so I sat in the room and copied. This time, I was too preoccupied to hear the full quote about getting naked in the streets. Of course I realized he'd just said it when everyone else in the room reacted. Heh. I'm hoping to get a copy anyway, so I could show it here in Portland. I also hope to get a copy of the 11 minute film they showed to us on the very first night, "Being Peace in Time of War." It has footage of peace demos that BPF was involved in, and bits of interviews with Aitken Roshi and Sulak Sivaraksa, two BPF venerables.
Friday, July 07, 2006
It was really hard to choose from the workshops. Anchalee of the refugee work had one called Strengthening Our Global Connections. At the same time I could choose one on Prison Dharma, led by BPF's staff for that program, Michael, and Alan Senauke, spiritual advisor to BPF. I would go to that one as much for Alan's presence as for the subject. At the last moment I chose to go to one I'd already decided against, because of my intention for the weekend. Since I wished to help others take joy in their interconnections, I realized the best thing for me to do would not be some new, intriguing subject, but something that I would be likely to bring back and use here at home. A few year years ago I was there when the group synergy led Maia (before she was director) to come up with the Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism. Before I reflected, it seemed as though this would be review. When I made it not about me, but what I could share, this was obviously what I needed to do. The bulk of my work lies in creating community...I'm not likely to find the time to follow up on Prison Dharma or global connections. Going to those might be educational, but they would be a distraction.
I came out of that workshop excited to bring it back home. Maia and Jesse (board member) said they'd presented the Mandala to chapters before, but never as a workshop. I couldn't imagine it any other way. Drawing my own Mandala, engaging it and sharing my engaged dharma with another gave it a focus for me that merely knowing about it hadn't. Also, my Seattle compadres were in the workshop, and during one part we were encouraged to form into groups according to region, and talk about actions we've participated in that had been a positive experience. We emerged determined to fortify our chapter connections and our friendship. Viki and I both felt there needed to be a fifth segment to the Mandala: cultivating or serving as a conduit. We both felt so much of the work we do is just that, cultivating community and peace and just letting what wants to happen, happen. And personally, the question for our personal mandala, "What's missing?" gave me a clear answer: more zazen.
I'd already considered Viki a mentor, but found myself really drawn to Denis as well. As one of the opening ritual Directions, he'd expressed some uncertainty over his piece of it. Actually, they all did a little. It had come together so perfectly, in my exuberance I'd gone to each of them and asked for a hug, because I could. In my usual experience of Buddhist retreats, there is no eye contact, and definitely no hugs. Well, not until the last day and we let our hair down. Later, Denis found me and asked for a hug.
Again, I had a dilemma for the afternoon workshop. Alan Senauke's "Dharma of Martin Luther King Jr.", or "Fundraising Inside Out: Relating to Money with Joy, Equanimity, and Courage." I can only hope I have a chance again to hear Alan talk of MLK's Dharma. I don't need to raise a whole lot of money, but the little that I do has been like pulling teeth, so I went to the fundraising one. This actually turned out to be quite an inspiring workshop (as did Alan's) and throughout the weekend people were referring back to one or the other. Kristi developed this model as a consultant because as a fundraiser, she herself had cringed at the way traditional fundraising went against her core values. For example, creating classifications of membership encourages stratification, which goes against a core value of equality. Or when money buys access to seating or clubs or inner circles, it encourages homogeneity when a core value is diversity. She gave the vibrant example of Maya Angelou receiving some award and reading a poem, and all the people in front surrounding her were white. She mentioned Lynne Twist several times: Soul of Money. I'm going to have to check it out just to find the poem by Tagore that Kristi said was in there. It brought me to tears. This workshop certainly has me thinking about changing the way we ask for money in our membership brochure, but it also brings a thread of articulating core values that I want to bring back to my core members (and determined to get those core members to come forward).
Saturday morning we had one more workshop. Again I had the chance to attend Anchalee's global connections. I was also intrigued by the one on the Department of Peace campaign, but I just had to go to the one presented by Aidan Delgado, Buddhist Conscientious Objector. Earlier he had given a talk in which he told his story: enlisting on the morning of 9/11; beginning to realize during basic training that this wasn't for him; starting a Buddhist practice; Abu Ghraib; putting his gun down; having his armor taken away. He told us what we know publicly is only a small piece of it. What happened over there, all over not just Abu Ghraib, was so bad that he saw people go one of two ways: they either got more deeply spiritual, or they got incredibly hateful and cruel. He told us that while he was made a pariah...he had to stay there during the year his CO status was decided...while it was really bad, it wasn't as bad as the deep pain in his heart when he'd held the gun that was pointed at Iraqis. See Alternet interview with Aidan here. This 24 year old was quite self-possessed and a good speaker, partly because he's spoken hundreds of times at colleges and some high schools. Friday night he'd been gratified to hear from me, a long-time practitioner, that I can feel like I'm not doing enough zazen. It had taken me a long time to realize this for myself, but it was easy to see he needed to hear what I told him: "You will do what you need to do when you need to do it."
To wind up his speech he told us he had some practical ideas that we could do, and he would talk about that in his workshop. There was no doubt I wanted to attend this workshop. I am hungry for something to do that doesn't feel like I was just spinning my wheels. When our videographer suggested we could continue to film Aidan if the workshop stayed in that room, a quick group decision confirmed we wanted that. (Audio and video may be available sometime soon at the BPF website.)
Aidan began the workshop with an analysis of peace work as it exists, and how that relates to the enlistment and deployment process. There is a downward curve in numbers of soldiers: say a million enlist, slightly less make it through basic training, less again are deployed, slightly less come back home and of those, many are disaffected, and of those disillusioned soldiers, only a few hundred become involved in peace groups, and only a few, like Aidan, become prominent spokespeople. Basically he outlined a strategic plan, and for once in these several years I've been actively working for peace, I feel like I've come across something that could work.
Aidan said we have a lot of activists going after the recruitment numbers, and that's good. Anti-recruitment (Aidan would prefer we said "honest recruitment" because recruiters make promises that are never filled all the time) is working, recruiters are not making their goals. But there are two key areas that are ignored by us. There are many enlistees that realize their mistake in that first week or two of basic training. If they could, they would get out. What they don't know is that they can. They are told they will be arrested, but they are not usually told they can still change their mind. They don't know all their rights, and the military isn't going to volunteer information. We could find ways to do that.
Another weak time for the military, strong for peace workers, is that time when soldiers are first deployed. Like Aidan, they may know in their hearts this is the wrong thing for them to do, but they are stuck. Again, that's not true, but it is a difficult process to achieve Conscientious Objector status. To succeed, a soldier needs skills s/he may not have, such as good writing skills, and being persuasive. It is at that point too, that Aidan said we could be most effective in getting information to the soldiers about their rights and about the GI Rights Hotline, and even helping them put all their ducks in a row by volunteering for the GI Rights Hotline. We could send the soldiers mailings, care packages, include some simple information, some hotline numbers. This had me very excited. This is something so simple and so concrete that we could do as religious communities, as chapters of BPF. If we could help even one soldier get out of the insanity, it would be worth it. Aidan has promised he will write up the process on how to go about sending care packages.
A weak point for us peace workers is a culture gap. There may be many soldiers returning from deployment that are for peace, but they don't get involved because, as Aidan said, "We are freaks." The military is ritualistic and formal, and he said it "could be frightening to come to a drum circle." Some of us chuckled, thinking of the very ritualistic and formal Zen. (Claude AnShin Thomas is doing good work there.) We can't just plan an event and invite veterans and wonder why they don't come. Then there's the gap of pro-peace but uninvolved vets. They may need some skills training so they are better able to become public spokespersons, more regional, not necessarily national like Aidan. A strong message I heard from Aidan is that we need to meet the soldiers where they are at. All too often, and I agree, progressives cannot help but wax holy on how bad war itself is, violence itself is, social injustice itself is. If we cannot meet an anti-war returning vet where he is, it is no wonder the perception persists among soldiers that if you're anti-war, you're anti-them. It is not very peaceful to hold ourselves apart, and I have found this to be a critical flaw in the peace movement: everyone must have their specific critical pet issue represented. When veterans return with PTSD, with doubts about the war, with confusing reactions to their own homes and families, they don't need to be lectured about "abolishing the military". Number one, they need skills to find peace within themselves, and two, they need to find an outlet for their convictions that honors the skills they do have, or want to have.
Still to come: open space technology and closing, which leads into sexy NYC
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Something I'm sure we all felt most honored to experience was a dharma talk on Friday night (6/23) by Robert Aitken Roshi. Just that week he turned 89 years, and long of ill health, there was no way he could travel from Hawaii to New York, but he gave the talk via telephone, and took questions from us. A highlight for many was his dharma advice to do something drastic...we should be getting naked in the streets. He is known for saying that there is no Buddhism that isn't engaged, but he also will be in your face with his messages. It wasn't the easiest dharma talk to listen to, faint speaker phone line along with his old gravelly voice, so either people were too shy or they'd been too busy concentrating to be ready with questions for him. One person asked him to repeat the naked in streets line, but both times I couldn't hear exactly what came before or after. Some Zen quote, I think.
Something he'd said prompted me to ask, "What would you say to Buddhist teachers who will not talk about politics in dharma talks?" (My teacher does not, and I haven't had a problem with that. I see my ecumenical group as the place for people to channel those energies.) I was curious what this feisty and venerable teacher would say to that. He said, "Well they don't want to be of the world!" And actually that answer quite aptly reflected my thoughts about my teacher lately: he does set himself apart from us, his students. He's very good at helping us grow up spiritually, but I'm beginning to realize there's a way in which I could never be his peer, never be 'of his world'. Eh, well, my teacher still learns too.
Another person referred to Aitken Roshi's mention of Phil Berrigan, and asked something about doing actions that get one arrested. Roshi told us to consider others who are involved in our lives. It was a hardship for Phil Berrigan's children all those years he was in jail, and sometimes his wife was in jail too. He gave a similar answer about withholding income tax too. Roshi and his wife did that for years, but when the IRS finally decided to pursue them, it was a horrible experience trying to jump through all the hoops asked of them. It was clear he was thinking of the pain his wife went through. I heard in that a very keen understanding of the Middle Way. We must speak, we must act, we must put our very naked bodies on the line for the good of the world, but in doing so we must consider our loved ones and all who could be affected by our actions.
[I learned after I got back that while I was in the city on Monday the 26th there was a rally/walk/civil disobedience in Manhattan to close down Guantanamo. Dan Berrigan was there, as well as Phil's daughter, Frida. A person from the BPF Gathering found herself walking beside Frida, "an eloquent courageous activist." Slideshow found here.]
It was around this time, maybe a little earlier, that I realized this BPF gathering was really coming together. In the way that it was a retreat, our container for the practice was making us a community. I noticed that while some people were naturally quiet or reserved, those same quiet ones would step forward quickly to move chairs or offer help, eager to feel a part of the group. As ritual coordinator, I had no lack of timekeepers for the optional meditation periods. Magically, just as I was thinking some kind of movement would be appropriate for a shared ceremony time, a woman approached me offering to lead some qi gong as it was something she did every morning.
Oops, well, it looks like I'm going to have several more than three parts. Still to come: Aidan Delgado, Buddhist Conscientious Objector, and other things.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Finally I have some time to tell about my trip, which was absolutely perfect...
First of all, I loved the chance to experience the New York transit system. After a night in a hotel near the airport (6-21), I took the AirTrain and subway to Grand Central Station. Of course I got a late start because noon was my 9 am, but I didn't have to be anywhere until late afternoon. OK, it wasn't absolutely perfect...the hotel only supplied Folgers coffee. I made my first touristy purchase in a little shop at Grand Central when I realized how hot and muggy it was and I hadn't packed any hair sticks to get my thick long hair up off my neck. I put one of the two hairsticks immediately in my hair.
I went to New York to take part in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's Member Gathering.
BPF booked the Garrison Institute in Garrison, about an hour from the city. It was really kind of funny, this place. It's very beautiful and seemingly serene, but there were little things that were like annoying little gnats: they supplied us with only one towel for 4 days; the dishes all seemed designed to spill; they had a rule about using fragrance-free soaps. I joked that it seemed they wanted to mess with our spiritual practice. (Really, the glasses were narrower at the bottom, and if you tilted your glass just a little the water sloshed like a mini water funnel up and over the side...I spilled more water that weekend....) It was hot and muggy and it was deer tick season and they put us on the third floor, the hottest and no elevator. On the other hand the meals they provided were great, except at the very last when the salad had one certain bitter leaf that made you scrunch up your face. That was pretty much symbolic of the Garrison Institute. Oh, and they also had hot tubs, that was a good thing. The others wouldn't believe me when I told them it helped a person cool off.
In spite of the bitter-leaf-in-the-salad, the 4 days were perfect. I'd helped to plan the schedule, and a couple days before Maia, the director, had given us responsibilities for pieces of the weekend. She asked me to take point on the ritual portions of the schedule. This member gathering, it wasn't exactly a conference, it wasn't exactly a Buddhist retreat, but it was somewhere in between. An Engaged Buddhist Middle Way, of sorts. We'd already established that since BPF is ecumenical and egalitarian in nature, we wanted the ritual portions to come from the attendees and their particular practices. We also knew we wanted the opening ceremony to be something completely reflective of BPF, and not some particular sect of Buddhism. We'd rounded up a few volunteers to lead some ceremony, but I had many more schedule bits to fill.
While on the phone with Maia I'd mentioned to her I was just beginning to think of *my* intentions for the weekend, that until then I'd been focused on what it would be for other people. She took that thought and incorporated it into her idea for our opening ceremony. We had 4 people who spoke of specific concerns that came from the regions they represented, and they offered 4 responses to the suffering. Then we went around the room, when each participant could tell who they were, where they came from, and a succinct expression of their intention for the weekend gathering.
Lance began in the West. He spoke of the war, and our need to bear witness and not just think about the suffering but feel it. He led a tonglen meditation, once a 'secret' practice but made not secret by Pema Chodron. Basically you breathe in the ills of the world, and breathe out healing and happiness. Then Anchalee in the East, originally from Thailand. She has worked with refugees ever since she graduated from college. She especially wanted to mention those who were put into involuntary servitude. The ritual piece she brought was beautiful: homage to the 3 refuges in Pali, and the precepts in Pali. She said it's something one always recites in her Theravadin practice at the beginning of any ceremony. When she was young she didn't understand why but now she realizes it is to set the intention. Then it was to Jose in the South. Originally from Argentina, he spoke eloquently of how people 'were disappeared' in the politics of Latin America. But now, the ways of his country seems to be transplanted to this country, while in Latin America there are indigenous movements that are transforming the politics. He read a poem of Neruda, mostly in English, some Spanish. Finally there was Denis from Seattle in the North. He spoke of the riches we have, but of the suffering we have, war, environmental concerns, people in poverty, without health care. He invoked interbeing, and how we all need to find ourselves in the other. He read a poem by Robert Bly about how two people had no more to do but be, and love that third being in the room that was their connection.
In the go-round, some people expressed some very anguished distress over the state of this country, and the hope they could find some answers in the weekend. That was a tall order, but I think there were some answers found. I certainly found some. My intention had just come together that evening: I wanted to take joy in our interconnections, and help others make their interconnections, and get my self out of the way. In my role as ritual coordinator, that came together for me in a profound way.
Coming in Part 2: What I got out of the weekend
Part 3: Two magical nights in New York City
I'm thinking of my Buddhist friends having their picnic at Great Vow Monastery. Every year they host an Independence Day Pan-Buddhist Picnic. Sometimes people have called it the Interdependence Day Picnic. I just traveled across the country and have been busy since I got home, so I've decided to stay home today and get caught up. I prefer to think of this as a day where we remember our dependence on each other simply to exist.
I'm not feeling very patriotic. After 4 years the Supreme Court has ruled the Bush administration has detained prisoners at Guantanamo illegally. We finally get the news that the American people were spied on long before 9/11, so much for that being the excuse for the warrantless spying. We still have soldiers dying in a war that was justified with lies and fills the pockets of corporate giants.
When I went to New York (more on that later) I loved the architectural details. I believe this was on the Rockefeller Center. After I got home I checked out a book from the library: "The Plot to Seize the White House." Back in the 30s, the Rockefellers were one of those super elite families that were friendly to the Fascists, were they not? On the one hand I am inspired by their contributions to our cities, on the other I am appalled at the dirty capitalist machinations that would subvert our democracy. Basically, a plot was conceived to put a puppet dictatorship in the White House, making Franklin Roosevelt a figurehead President. The name DuPont figured heavily. Back then, just as it happens today, the media ridiculed General Smedley Butler, the patriotic man who revealed the plot, and the wealthy industrialists were never prosecuted. Today we have had two bloodless coups, the proof of rigged elections is out there, but it has been ridiculed as 'tin-foil hat conspiracies' and the corporate giants really do call the shots.
I find greatest happiness in celebrating this interwoven network of connections that we have from person to person, affinity group to affinity group. Our families, our spiritual groups, our friends, our activist groups for which we willingly work for free, this is where I find the freedom of America, and I work to preserve it. We Buddhists like to talk up compassion and kindness and giving the benefit of the doubt, but we have real reason to fear in our minority status. In our desire to connect, we cannot blind ourselves to the dangers in the erosions of our Bill of Rights. Our democracy has been eroded on several fronts: compromised voting boxes; criminals in office; propaganda that passes for news; never-ending war that makes the corporate giants even richer and relies upon the bodies of the poor; erosion of the separation of church and state.
So much of this loving connection we have from person to person is lost when power and money get involved. I do not want to celebrate war. I do not want to celebrate nationalism, but I do want to celebrate our interconnectedness. We are a greedy nation, and feel entitled, but we depend on the world to live the way we do.
I have been doing a lot of Bodhisattva work lately, and I purchased my Kanzeon garden statue as a gift to myself to honor that gift in my life. I got her up the street from me, at A-1 Birdbath at 85th and Division, for those in the Portland area who may want to check out their wares. I found the little red Foo Dog at Target, of all places. (Target also had a goofy-looking Buddha, a Manga-Buddha, my friend called it.)
Compassion and love have been strong themes in my life lately, and it hurts my heart to dwell too much upon the violence being done by my government. Kanzeon/Kwan Yin is the One Who Hears the Cries of the World. She responds exactly as needed. When she arises in me, in you, in anyone, she is arising through the natural love we feel when we shed the tendencies of indoctrinated violence. May there be more of Kanzeon energy in the world.