Greetings from the Land of Enchantment: November 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anti-War and other sugar plums dancing in my head

There have been several post-election interviews with Bill Ayers, former Weather Underground member, and all of them have repeatedly evidenced the nuanced intellect and integrity of a man who refuses to espouse idealogy over the facts as he sees them, versus the hysterical rhetoric of a neo-con movement gone bankrupt and a media that doesn't know how to discern and dismiss topics that don't warrant their time. That said, it's been interesting to hear the anti-war themes from the 60s being repeated today, but in a different atmosphere and a different time. Winter Soldier is being relived as former Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers come home from their tours and speak of the unspeakable. Anti-war sentiments given new life by the devastating injuries that young men and women come home with--injuries they never would have survived 40 years ago from another unwanted war.

As our President-elect warns of renewed efforts in the field of battle along the Afghan-Pakistan border, I am already weary. There are no winners in battle. There is only the prudent policy decided after the fact--after thousands are dead, after hundreds are raped, after so many tortured, after homes are lost and communities destroyed--to end what should have never begun.

The 6th Sikh Guru, Hargobind, was the first guru to take up arms and become a great soldier. And as I look at my long history of passivism as a guiding philosophy (my own personal temperament not included--ha!) over the particular faith I've adopted, I wonder: Yes, there are things worth dying for; but are there things worth killing for? There's the rub--as another writer once said.

One assumes that most of the time, dying versus killing are moot points on the battlefield, indistinguishable from one another.

But there is one front that we can always succeed in: uplifting women, educating children, and helping the leaders in any given community come to serve themselves. Three Cups of Tea by Mortensen and Relin has shown me that it's possible. Yogi Bhajan's longstanding policy that if we elevated women, we could change the world also points the way.

Until then, we wrestle with our conscience and we try to fit our policy onto forms that don't work--post nationalist policy on ancient tribal fodder. It's never worked--and it won't now. We can only stand down from our lofty rhetoric and ask the simple question: What would be best for everyone? And begin to make that happen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion

Fall is always a challenging time for me. The weather grows cooler and the wave of community events slows down and I retreat somewhat. It's a good time to take my spiritual temperature, so to speak. I've noticed that like most people, I tend to want resolution. I want to feel that something is done--complete. So my awakening earlier this spring, I hoped, marked the end of depression, melancholia, only to have it return again. My inspiration last winter at the Golden Temple, that deep transformational healing, I thought would never need to be revisited. Yet, here I am again.

It leads me to just remind us--and myself--to take it easy. Compassion begins at home and the journey toward Self, is a spiral that continues to rise, but too often feels like it's treading familiar, unwanted territory. So--a call to all of us: reject nothing, embrace everything, and keep returning and returning to the feet of the guru, bowing to our truest self, and practicing contentment--even in the face of sorrow, grief, or pain (especially when it's self-inflicted (smile)).

Resistance is in the flow of life. Receive its many blessings, surrender to its many sorrows, and laugh as often as you can.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A question of parenting

In the wake of such a wonderful reawakening of the American spirit, the election of Obama, there is also a tremendous grief at the civil liberties still being denied to people--from the arch conservative hills of Arkansas to the progressive shores of California. But a deeper shock hit me when I read the amendment that recently passed in my sister's home state of Arkansas. Not only did they deny parenting rights to gay people, but also single people (just to be SURE that no gay person could parent). But in their zealotry to deny parenting rights to people that they for whatever reason have taken upon themselves to disparage and hate, they have also denied me my right to parent.

I am single--and although I have always sensed the true nature of cultural pariah that it was--I've never believed it warranted having my civil liberties removed. Evidently Arkansas thinks otherwise.

My sister's only response was, 'well, we're pretty conservative here.' And in my effort to not completely deny her place as my family, I simply replied, 'that's one word for it.'

For myself, I have always gone back and forth between wanting to parent and accepting what life has given me. But in the face of having that right denied, I'm taken aback. What about my never having married makes me less capable of loving a child, or providing shelter and security, or just plain wanting to help someone who has either been abandoned or left behind by tragedy. The state of Arkansas says, too bad, you're not human enough to parent. Well, here's a big "F--- You" to the State of Arkansas and anyone who believes they have the right to determine who's human enough to be deserving of the full expression of civil liberties here in the United States.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How Poetry Saved My Life

I came of age in the Reagan era. Greed was 'in'. Arts and Music were abandoned for the baser themes of money and power and I, of course, never fit in. I stood and stared agape at the yellow ties and blue blazers of young republicans who espoused 'christian' values and then went about scourging the 'welfare' state and all things progressive or open-minded. It was a dark time.

Today things are different--or soon will be. But still I find my heart is drawn backward, to these dark days, these questions of hope and doubt still warring. In part, it is because of my own impotency in the face of these questions. Though a progressive in spirit, I am a homebody by nature; so my desire for a new world, a more just world, is met not with action but with paralysis. And I loathe myself for my inaction; but find myself, nevertheless, powerless in the face of it. Old habits die hard and a life of passivity is not overcome by a singular figure of hope and transcendence; but instead by one day a time, making the effort to do something differently.

Until then, until the will to act overcomes my lethargy and fear, I have poetry. I have that one line that can lift my spirits and take me out of myself and my own 'tiny' world into the greater world beyond the limits of my own skin, my own imagination, my own despair. That greater world can be the observation of a spider or the musings of a master on death. Either way, that single line, that turn of phrase, that world revealed can transform me like nothing else. It can bring me flight when I feel that my spirit will never fly again. It can provide clarity when it seems nothing will ever make sense again. It can deliver hope --and open the door to love-- when it seems like my heart will never recover. In the face of profound sadness, it can make me smile again.

Today there is a sadness in me that feels impenetrable; but I know that a morning spent with Billy Collins or Mary Oliver will somehow provide me with just enough thread to spin a cocoon around me, giving me the space to heal, to curl up with not just my pain but also a truth that's beyond me and my own particular wound, so that with time I will emerge again, a butterfly, delighting in the world, spreading my wings, and floating on the warmth of a spring wind.

It has saved my life before
may it save it again
and may we all
through darkness and shadow
and lightness and delight
remain at the feet of the one
who delivers us through it all
and may that one be
celebrated and praised
through the word
the line that weaves its way
into the heart of darkness
and merges with it
a thread of hope

Friday, November 07, 2008

Breathing Room

One watches the political process in America and wonders, "Can't you just give a guy a break?" In less that 24 hours, talking heads from both the right and the left are slicing and dicing when there isn't even anything to cut into yet--and you realize, sitting in your office or at home, that it's all just spin. They have to talk about something--so they just attack because that seems more 'newsworthy', more 'neutral'. It is the demand of the medium itself--the 24-hour news cycle.

But even beyond the demands of the medium, it is a mind-set, cultivated for so long that even as 'change has come', we remain the same.

But somewhere in the middle there has to be some breathing room, some rational discourse, some simple foot work. Without clinging to ideals nor abandoning them to greed and opportunism, without crying out "I'll walk through hell before I allow x, y, or z" and thus completely undermining someone's caliber and capacity nor placing someone on such a high pedestal that they're bound to come tumbling down. Imagine giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Imagine a life of neutrality: moving from the negative to the positive and then acting from the neutral.

It happens everywhere--not just on the grand political stage but also in the mundane, everyday life. But perhaps as we watch a true leader rise above the fray and dialogue and listen and then act, we, too, will have an opportunity to mature, to grow up, and to give ourselves and each other a little breathing room.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A many splendored thing

love itself is vast. . . . but loving someone is specific and even when they're gone, it's those little things that we remember; it's those things we miss:

his voice, like a brook, a thrill of babbling water over rock, whether singing old lyrics from 70s songs or rhymes about exotic animals in spanish

the flutter of his fingers after he ate, meticulously neat--and yet not

his goofy, quirky expressions

his razor sharp intellect

his beautiful, open smile

the way he would call and respond to himself in his daily ardas

the way he always ended his practice with long time sun, even though he was by himself--always remembering his teacher and blessing him--amazing

the lightness of his touch

the smile in his eyes

the way he made me laugh

his devotion to the goddess

his mercurial, curious mind

the breadth of his understanding and compassion

the depth of his surety, his rightness

the willingness to change his mind

his broad shoulders, the curve of his spine

his sadness

his tenderness--to everyone

his attention and his inattention

the line of his nose

the fullness of his lips

the neutrality and the passion

the hello and the goodbye

weeeeeeee--the pure pleasure of the moment

the thrill

and the quiet

the ease of sitting beside him

I miss these small things and more

and then try to remember . . . love is vast

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A New Dawn

"it's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life . . . for me." I've quoted this song before for more personal reasons, but it applies today as well. It's a new America--one that I can finally feel a part of.

Thank you! God bless Barack Obama. May he be safe. May he be great. And may we prove worthy of him.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The American Way

After hours and hours of watching the political machinations of each party going back and forth, I continue to remain stunned by the Republican Party rhetoric. Granted, I grew up in a republican household, upper-middle class, and have spent the better part of my adult life ashamed of my privilege (that was hard-fought for by my parents, both of whom grew up in lower-middle class families but later became republicans), running toward the principles that I believed created a more just America--and still do. Why my parents abandoned their labor roots I still haven't quite figured out.

(The last morsel of hope I had has been quashed by my father's illness--he would have voted for Obama, instead he's still in the hospital. My mother remains adamantly republican, god help us.)

Nevertheless, there's a lot of garbage being bantered about by the Republican machine lately--socialism, the progressive income tax being re-engineered by their spin machine as 'the dole', which is just another euphemism for welfare (and racism and class war) and more. It's insane, outrageous, incredible -- and I mean that in the most literal sense -- without credibility.

The 'american way' that everyone, especially the republicans like to wax nostalgic about, was built by the progressive income tax. We would never have built the wealth and the prosperity in this country without it. And in fact, we are seeing the fruits of an unfair tax code right now--the rich getting richer, the poor left behind without any real hope of entering into the prosperity that is 'the american way'.

The progressive income tax was instituted by a Republican President--Teddy Roosevelt. He saw the excess of the upper 1% as the potential breakdown of american freedoms and he instituted a progressive tax that would allow services and access to the middle class for everyone. And now it's socialism?

One of my favorite slogans I've ever seen lately was this: The Labor Movement--We're the one's that brought you the weekend. Without the policies and leadership of Government--BIG government--we wouldn't have the fabled 'american way' that the republicans like to take credit for and yet undermine with every deregulation code they support and every cynical, snide comment they make about 'liberal'. When did 'liberal' become a bad word? When did tolerance and civility leave the public discourse? As Obama said the other day, When did selfishness become a virtue?

The progressive income tax along with all the other social nets that governments--both republican and democratic--have instituted over the past 100 years are what created this place we call America. They are what created opportunity, prosperity, consumer safety (Can anybody say melamine?), flexibility, upward mobility, and all the standard bearers of the middle class way of life.

For the republican party to undermine these most fundamental principles and foundations of the middle class here in America shows me that not only have they lost their way, they've lost the plot.