Monday, November 26, 2007

Books Read

Sutras of Abu Ghraib by Aidan Delgado
I met Aidan in 2005 when he was giving a lot of talks on why he was a Conscientious Objector. He must have been working on this book at the time. He was struggling with a new-Buddhist dilemma that he wasn't doing as much meditation. After reading this book, I could see how that could be a struggle. His Buddhist practice, which included study and meditation, were what kept him sane in the insane world of occupied Iraq.

It was clear then when he said the lack of armor was not as scary as the pain in his heart over carrying a gun. He felt such relief when he put that gun down, the tough time he got from the other soldiers were as nothing compared to it.

It was clear now when I read the book and got more details of how he expressed his misgivings.

Aidan's book is not so much a war memoir as it is an introspection. It is exactly the sort of introspection that underlines the fact that a spiritually-minded person must separate himself and his spirituality from the deeds he is required to do in war. If you truly deeply in your heart believe it is wrong to kill, then if you are a soldier you must do something to reconcile yourself. The war machine encourages this. You must make the enemy less than human. You must absolve yourself from responsibility by telling yourself you are following orders. You cannot look deeply at how it makes you feel to hurt another, in fact you must learn to like hurting another.

This causes post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers, but is hardly acknowledged to do so. Aidan could no longer separate himself, with his earnest beginner's mind caught up in the Buddhist way. Oh, and there are people who are soldiers because they want to hurt people. Aidan witnessed plenty of those.

And then they come home. (That is not part of the book, but is something to think about.)

The Golden Compass (audio)
I read this book around the year 2000. I read all three of the trilogy in about a week...they are that brand of fiction that is like a drug you can't say no to. You can't put them down, you read until it is gone, and then you wonder why you can't stay in that world.

This time around I listened to it. The readers are more like actors giving voice to the characters. Listening forces a person to slow down, absorb the details, and I love the details. The only chalkboard screech: when I read it, my inner voice read "daemon" as sounding like "die-mon" (like the Greek would be) whereas the British pronunciation is "dee-mun." That gives you a completely different feel to what daemons are, and to me they are more like the Greeks intended: a spirit personification of a person's inner self.
On the other hand, while I did chuckle over the turning of Christianity on its head, I didn't really feel it was all that subversive until I got to the third book. (It builds.) I didn't know the author really was anti-Christian. Now, with the movie out, more people are aware of this and making sure readers are I did pick up on more of those details, and which makes me think the author did intend the devilish pronunciation.

One Dark Body by Charlotte Watson Sherman
The spiritual holds as much shape as the physical in this book. Raisin is born wrinkled due to her mother's failed abortion. Her mother left her to be raised by a foster-mother. When her mother comes back to Pearl, Washington, Raisin wants nothing to do with her. Other-worldly spirits have as much to say about it as the living people. Mystical and poetic, this follows in footsteps of Zora Neale Hurston.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The scientists know that a giant meteor is going to hit the moon. The media is celebrating it. Kids are given assignments to write about it. What they don't expect is that it will knock the moon closer to the earth. The first indication that all will not be as it once was, crazy thunderstorms. Then tsunamis. Miranda writes all about it in her diary, just a teen who loves ice skating and sports. Cities are lost,volcanoes come awake, the earth shakes, people starve, but because this is a teen novel, I'm fairly sure Miranda is going to make it through.

The author gets a few digs in at the Bush administration (unnamed) and apocalyptic ministers. I thought the implications that this sporty girl was more likely to survive because she continued to exercise while she was starving was a bit off. Some of it seemed to be a lesson on how to survive such a worldwide calamity, which I find fun.

Circle of Magic Quartet by Tamora Pierce (audio)

Sandry's Book
I like the way this series relies on all four characters to save the day with their special magic, but each book in the quartet especially needs one of the children to rally her magic. In this the first, Sandry's natural ability to weave both relationships and magic is the key to a good ending.

Tris's Book
Tris is the first to see magic with the help of a spell by her teacher, but the other children soon pick it up from her. This happens between the four of them: they are indelibly linked through their magic. Tris must learn to guide her weather magic so they can all defeat the pirates.

Daja's Book
Each of these books has a pattern. The natural talent of the child-mage experiences a growth spurt through accident or instinctive need, and then the child-mage must learn to nurture and channel that newly-found ability to save the day, with the help of the complete circle. Daja's talent experiences this growth spurt when she gets it mixed up with Briar's green magic, and she grows a metal tree.

This magic metal tree is so valuable the traders that want it must barter directly with her, even though they have done their trader version of ex-communicating her as bad luck. It's a great lesson in creating a place in the world on your own terms. Tamora Pierce is great for that for girls.

Briar's Book
Briar's magic comes from plants, and by this the 4th book, how he draws upon it is well established. Now he can read, and must learn to channel his magic more methodically. How is a plague dealt with in a world with magic? Magic helps provide a few extra layers of protection and remedies.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, audio read by Brendan Fraser
I was hardly aware this was a translation as I began listening to this engaging book. A good bit of the magic came from the reader, Brendan Fraser. I'd put it on my ipod, and at first I wondered who could be that talented, sexy, multi-voiced reader? He changes accents on a dime, from a Scottish brogue to Texan drawl, squeezing out the accentless Hollywood narrator voice all in the same breath.

A dragon, a brownie, and a boy set out on a quest to find the home of the silver dragons. They are helped on this journey by rats, an English scholar of fantastic creatures, and a djinni, among others. They must contend with an ancient nemesis, details of its dangers lost in the ages, and its spy right in their own backpack.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chris Matthews on the Daily Show

The writers' strike has given us all a vacation from new Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. (you don't pronounce the S at the end of that, do you?) That is how I usually get my news. While I'm sure something terrible is happening that I'm missing because of this, it does leave me with an hour less of TV per day. Unless I missed it the first time around.

I missed this one that aired October 2nd, an interview with Hardball's Chris Matthews. It's worth a second view. Jon Stewart tells Chris that his philosophy of life is sad. What is incredibly surreal? Chris is shocked that Jon would actually say that. In Matthews' new book he tells us we would do well to live life like politicians. It will help us get ahead in life. And yes, he means by using duplicity and the narcissistic charms of disingenuousness. And he's shocked that Jon finds that incredibly sad. I love Jon Stewart.

I wasn't the only one who found this noteworthy. So did the Huffington Post. The Post is slightly kinder to Matthews than Stewart. Not so at Raw Story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mipham - What About Me

Did you like the item I posted that I wrote almost two years ago? I wanted to give some context to this video. Talented Rinpoche.

The Spiritual Director of Shambhala

I wrote this early in 2006 for the NW Dharma News. One of the perks of a volunteer writing gig, you get invited to attend own small version of a press pass. It was interesting to me that this teacher attracted quite an audience. Something about Tibetan teachers seems to attract an automatic celebrity status among certain Americans.

Sakyong Rinpoche

The head of the Shambhala lineage and spiritual director of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, visited Portland in January to give a public talk and book signing for his latest book, "Ruling Your World, Ancient Strategies for Modern Life."

Born in 1962 in Bodhagaya, India, he spent his early years with his mother in a Tibetan refugee village. Later he joined his father, Chogyam Trungpa, in the West. The Rinpoche holds the Mukpo family lineage, descending from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling. He holds the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, is the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and he is also the lineage holder of Naropa University.

In 2001, Sakyong Mipham visited Tibet for the first time. Huge audiences gathered to hear his teachings and receive his blessings. Through the Kunchok Foundation, he is now gathering support for Tibetan schools and orphanages.

With roots in the East and the West, Sakyong Mipham is an artist and poet as well as Buddhist leader and teacher, and he enjoys golf, running and horseback riding. The inspiration for his newest book, "Ruling Your World" are the ancient Buddhist teachings, but he joked, "I've been told 'ruling your world' doesn't sound very Buddhist." He emphasized that "everyone can have wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness…these are innate parts of our being. Life is a process of actually bringing that out," but we don't have to leave the world, become monastics, to do so.

Sakyong referred to the dark times we live in, where aggression is considered the only way to respond to certain world events, where the suggested response of compassion is treated dismissively as naïve, even though we all know and instinctively understand this law, as Sakyong said, "Karmically speaking, once you use aggression, only painful things will come about. Pain for the other person and pain for oneself."

Sakyong's message was that there is a way for each of us to rule our world. "This inherent mind that we have is the wish-fulfilling jewel. …The jewel resides in the heart." One of his teachers, "literally the wise old man on top of the mountain," said "You can solve all things with gentleness." Later he said, "If we begin to see the pattern of our lives, our mind is very powerful. If we want to change things in our lives, we have to act. We have to engage. Particularly we have to engage with our intention of mind to mindfulness and awareness."

"Really true genuine happiness in the sense of a fulfilled life actually depends on an attitude of caring for others. Uplifting others. Altruism in this particular way. It's not that we stop caring about ourselves, but when we hold our mind and we think just about ourselves, then the mind becomes very small. …When I meet great teachers, the sense of their open-mindedness and compassion is very impacting. …Everyone has these qualities; the process is that we have to bring them out."

When it is put so simply, it is hard to understand why we collectively continue to spin around the wheels of greed, anger, and delusion. Sakyong said, "If we become self-absorbed, we become tired so easily. But as soon as we have the intention of helping others, the potency and the power comes."

I guess I would ask, how do we respond to the disdain inherent in dark times, as that disdain seems to keep people from noticing and appreciating this experience of small self versus big self. Perhaps Sakyong's answer is his oft-repeated message that we don't have to become monastics to do so. We each have to create the change, and urge the change in those who represent us. Peace of mind, and peace between each of us is not just for the "wise old man on the mountain."

Movies Seen

This is the kind of movie that I think of as a video game plot. Set in a flashy futuristic world, hot chick in latex must retrieve a certain thing and kill her way through all who would stop her. She seems to have many lives, and special drugs or gadgets that seem to give her special powers. Bad but compelling enough to keep watching.

Pursuit of Happyness
Based on the true story of a man who always knew he would never live his child without a father, unlike his own father. His struggles to earn enough money selling a piece of medical equipment that hardly any doctor wants, and his wife leaves him. He insists he keeps his son. Through persistence, charm, and intelligence he gets into a finance internship, and before it is done (without a guarantee of a job) he and his son are homeless.

I really liked this movie, love Will Smith, but did there have to be so much running?

Clerks II
I barely remember seeing Clerks. I remember the dialog was a bit tedious at times. I wasn't sure I would like the sequel, but it was good enough. No longer tedious. I was delighted to see supporting actors from my favorite sitcom, Earl and Randy.

The book was written by a teenager, and is very popular among the fantasy-loving set. While I am in that set, I've had my doubts because it was written by a teenager...not to mention that fact that I don't want to look too hard at the success of a teenage writer over my inability as of yet to finish a book.

Is it bad of me to be glad that the movie was horrible? The plot is one you could expect of an untried person, lacking the complexity I enjoy from an older writer. The screenwriter couldn't save it.

Oh yeah, it's about a young man who saves an egg, nurtures the dragon, and together with their special link as rider and dragon they save the day. Tivo recommended it.

Reign of Fire Recommended by Tivo after Eragon. Lately dragons in movies are the good guys, but not in this one. An ancient nest in London is disturbed and they start breeding, and lay waste around the world. People are reduced to defensive fortresses. Attempts to grow food are quickly incinerated by the dragons. A fortress outside of London is visited by the Americans, strangers almost as feared, but the Americans have a strategy that works to kill the dragons, and the two groups make plans to kill the stallion of the dragon herd. Scary with a bit of a Mad Max feel, good that way.

Post Impact
The Tivo has learned well our predilection for scifi and apocolyptic movies, but has yet to learn discernment. This movie makes Hollywood standard look like fine art. A giant meteor hits the earth, that was just the prologue. The intrigue comes 3 years later, or is it 5, when a microwave weapon satellite is re-activated and in the hands of some unknown hostile. The controls are in Berlin, the heart of the nuclear winter. The day is saved several times by the dog and the child. I suppose this is the German version of a B movie, beyond bad.

The pattern of the Tivo begins to emerge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Behind the Scenes

While it seems I've been laying low, I have been busy doing stuff in support of Buddhism, and busy procrastinating from doing that stuff with many hours of tivo. (Tivo is going crazy with all sorts of suggestions since Steve upgraded our box.)

Most noteworthy, I'm working to enable the development of a Buddhist support network for ex-prisoners. My sangha, Dharma Rain, wants to have this happen as a natural outflow of its fifteen year involvement inside the prisons. My BPF chapter wants to help this happen as a piece of its effort to increase cross-sangha engaged practices. I want to see this happen as something that could be the seed of my community organizing idea. There wasn't much enthusiasm for the idea of a challenge, but this beginning could allow for an organic process that builds into an Engaged Buddhist Consortium, or Collaboration, or something like that.

I've also arranged the next BPF meeting. We're going to do our one "business" meeting of the year (at least it seems to have become that) in which we reflect on how we do things and how that's working for us.

I also finished my articles for the NW Dharma News. It is now an online newsletter, no longer printed. You can check out the last one here. I will only have two little news stories in the next one, including one on the collaborative effort for ex-prisoners. (The stories that I'm involved with are the most difficult to write.) While this issue is freely available, the next one will supposedly be available only for members. I'm not sure how well that will work out for the NW Dharma Association. I think it should be free to all, and people will reward the Association by becoming members. I think if the Newsletter is openly available on the web, people will find it via Google searches for specific local Buddhist news. If the access is password protected, how will strangers find it?

I keep advocating, and things are still in flux. They just launched the rest of the website redo. It could still happen.

On other fronts, I'm a terrible housekeeper. Non-perishable groceries still sit on the kitchen table, waiting to be put away. I'll spare you the rest of the kitchen details.

But I've also been reading a lot. I joined GoodReads, recommended by mmkeekah. I've listed books there, but have yet to write the reviews. As the backlog piles up, I find yet more reasons to procrastinate.

my 'recently-read' shelf:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fall Colors

I found this neat slideshow via For more of my fall colors photos visit my flickr page.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Neahkanie and Nehalem Bay

I really quite enjoyed our vacation along the coast last month, but something I missed was the leisure time to walk on the beach. By some dumb stroke of luck somebody cancelled and I won the drawing for two nights at the library cottage. During the three days/two nights there, I got the chance to walk on the beach four times. I've been fortunate to visit here about once a year since Steve and I started going.

There's always something different about the beach. This time there was a giant tangle of seaweed. These things are about 30 feet long.


Somebody left an art installation on the beach:

hide arranged on driftwood

I like to visit these rocks during low tide. Once upon a time there were at least three, and this the tallest was 4 to 5 feet above the sand, the size of an easy chair. I'm not sure if people truck in sand to replace sand lost to the ocean, or if the ocean shifts sand back to the shore. During high water, the rocks would be submerged. I wonder if I will find them at all on my next visit.

I also enjoy observing the gulls as they drink the fresh water from the creeks emptying into the ocean.

I was particularly drawn to the rocks. Perhaps I developed an affinity after the Shasta Caverns. I was climbing about on the rocks on the north end of Neahkanie beach when the low water tide turned around to seek high water. Whoops, almost got wet.
The sunsets were glorious.

setting sun Neahkanie beach

Steve had the neat idea to take photos of details of the cottage that he likes to remember.

Steve's little things about the cottage old wood windowsill
I decided to steal his idea and take a few more of my own.

little things about the cottage little things about the cottage

On Thursday, our full day there, we visited the Cart'm recycling center

Cart'm recycling center thrift store garden bed

and the Nehalem Bay State Park, Steve's good idea.
Nehalem Bay

We saw a total of eight deer.

doe near cart'm stag in dunes

nehalam bay state park beach north view
For the slideshow of all the photos, go here. There are many more favorite things, and more visions from the beach and state park. Turn the titles on if you want to see more explanation, off if you just want to see the many photos.
neahkanie mountain rock beach