Saturday, February 28, 2009

Emotional Hobo

Relationships are a conundrum to me. My affections have recently been sparked, my imagination whirling in possibilities only to be reeled back to the ground forcibly by my reason tinged with my perception of reality. Relationships challenge us all. Our species yearns for deep connection with the other. Some can satisfy that craving by serving their Lord, or Truth, dedicating their lives and their passions toward the greater good of all sentient beings. When I've practiced this in short periods of experiment I find myself swimming in a steady stream of contentment. I notice my emotional life no longer undulates from extreme peaks of joy down to dark sloughs of despair. I become an emotional hobo, riding down a middle rail. But this takes great discipline for me. The hobo life is a lonely one. The dynamic waters of this physical existence are in themselves a strong lure. Just as in sea kayaking I feel myself called to this challenge, to be able to navigate the winds, tides and waves of relationship and not lose my bearing. So far in this life I have failed to get beyond the breakers without disorientation. But if love calls I will answer, donning my personal flotation device and relaxing into the rolls. Whether I paddle into the sunset of my Truth alone or not, I vow to enjoy this ride we call life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Capitalism or a Den of Thieves

As a child I was weened on the American Dream, one where if I worked really, really hard I could one day be a rich as Donald Trump, have a half dozen multimillion dollar homes, drive a different car each week, and literally throw worry and cash to the four winds. Well, I worked hard, went deep into debt to get degrees, then worked even harder and got to upper middle class then bam! - end of the highway. After paying my debts, having a big house with pool, hot tub, great family, visiting Europe, drinking expensive wine, eating the expensive cheeses and the 18 year old single malt scotch, I sat down I realized what a terrible nightmare that dream really was. I had all I needed and more yet I still felt an emptiness. This emptiness increased with my spending. As I contemplated this dilemma I realized that I was a thief. For every thing that I had above and beyond my basic needs, another human somewhere on this planet had less. For me to afford these things that looked like the luxury of the Trumps, I bought cheap knockoffs made by tiny third world fingers that lived in a system of oppression that my government's military supported and enforced. The more I came to understand world economics, and in particular America's role in it, the less I could enjoy things and the more spiritually bankrupt I felt.

I couldn't quite figure out what the connection was. Most people assured me that my epicurean tastes were fine to indulge in, that I had worked hard and deserved it. But the people that rolled my fine cigarillo worked many more hours and harder than I could ever imagine, and probably couldn't even afford to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. I didn't work hard at all. Who was I kidding. Sitting in a cube, evaluating numbers or writing scripts doesn't work up a sweat for me. As an Engineer working purely to enrich a CEO and stock holders I was paid more than 5 times what a child care provider is paid. Whoa! My work does nothing to enrich real people, or ensure a peaceful human being for tomorrow, yet I made 5 times what these women make. This is the falsity of the political economy that capitalism enforces. Ask yourself, what is more important to you: to have a new cell phone designed by teams of engineers taking a huge portion of the local economic pie, or that your child gets the love and care he needs while you're at your job 9 hours of the day?

I've searched deeply for some saving grace for capitalism but have come up empty handed again and again. Capitalism is devoid of morality when it becomes incorporated, and it is these large corporate entities that run capitalism in this new world economy. When capitalism was first envisioned corporations were illegal in the permanent sense, only allowed to exist for public works until the project concluded (like the railroad). Then lawyers stepped in, found loopholes, and corporations took over. A person can be a moral agent, but a corporation isn't. Yet a corporation has the same rights of a person with none of the moral responsibility. A corporation is self serving and self preserving. It lives only for growth at the expense of people, environment, and anything else that limits it's growth.

So when someone tells me that are true capitalist, I become suspect. They have either bought into the dream with all its propaganda or they are unclear on what capitalism implies. Well, there is one other choice, and that is that they are morally bankrupt believing that to serve the material happiness of a few it is okay to sacrifice the many.

Gandhi started off as a lawyer, albeit not a good one. But after success in South Africa he could have easily gone home to India and perused a private practice based on his popularity. Earlier he had bought into the look, life and indulgences of the British Western life proud to be a citizen of Her Majesty's Rule. But in South Africa he came face to face with the cost to those whose labor secure that life style for the British. One day on a train he opened a book by an English writer, John Ruskin, titled Unto This Last. Gandhi was transfixed, he gave up sleep on that train in order to finish the book. He was so taken with Ruskin's argument against the science on political economics, that he translated the text into his home language Gujarati and distributed to Indians as a way to warn them against the evil of industrialization and capitalism. Gandhi's paraphrase of this work was in such demand it was again translated back to English and available at
the original text of Ruskin is here.
From these pages emerges the very concept I'm discussing. Each and every human has a gift to share with the world and should be allowed a comfortable life for that gift. We all have the ability to dig and clean latrines, we all have the ability to work in the kitchen and we're all responsible to see that the children are loved, cared for and taught how to be moral agents in this world. Capitalism in a pure form has never existed for a reason, it is deadly. As the world economy melts down before our own eyes, let us sweep it away and build a new way. It'll be painful for sure, but what's little suffering to the nonviolent soldier that can see what the future could be for their children and grandchildren.

Have a Namaste, and when sitting at the table of life just take what you need, so that your neighbor may eat too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

To Discern and not to Judge

I participated in a conversation on the Israel/Palestine conflict yesterday. During the course of our dialogue we stumbled against the difference in discerning what is truth versus making a judgment. Merriam-Webster defines discernment as the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. But then who can judge whether someone is truly comprehended something that is obscure. Then we switch to the definition of judgment only to find out that it describes the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing. The subtle difference seems to be that in judging one concludes with an opinion in that matter, while discernment avoids making the transition into opinion. Judgment can also be made based on beliefs or assertions.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a terrific story that helps in dividing these subtle nuances. While nailing on a project in his garden, he left thumb was struck by the hammer. He immediately dropped the hammer in his right hand, then that same hand that had injured the thumb unhesitatingly wrapped its fingers tenderly around the sore limb. He said that even though the left hand knew that the right had been guilty of causing its suffering, it did not avoid the tenderness now shown, nor did it demand to have the hammer so that it might repay in kind the injury done it. The sore thumb discerned the reality of the situation without jumping to judgment or assumption that the injury was intentional or a repayment of a previous grudge held by the right hand for the left.

What does this mean in regards to the Middle East problem? Maybe Israel and Palestine are these two hands, Left and Right respectively, but neither trusting the other. At this present time the Left hand has hit the Right, leaving the bone shattered and exposed. If trust is to ever return to these hands, the Left must drop its hammer and comfort and care for the Right. If the Left can restore health and vitality to the Right, both hands might be able to hold one another, and the world, in a gesture of peace.

Let us end our judgments and begin to heal. May Israel's heart open to its neighbors, providing care, comfort, homes, hospitals, schools, food, medicine and love. If they continue to hit their Right hand with the hammer of hatred soon they will be left with no hand, only a bloody stump. It is their hatred that led to Hamas gaining power. When poor people have no options they turn to gangsters for help, but if Israel had been a caring neighbor to those they had left homeless then the world would be a safer place not only for them but all of us. And for the victor in war to show such care to it's victims would have won the Jewish people the highest of esteem from all people of all religions across the world. They did not, but there may still be time for them to change their ways. If they continue on this brutal trajectory I fear that antisemitism will increase world wide and we don't need to return to that.

May they have the courage to lead the world, showing us that they are capable of real and lasting peace. Because if peace can break out there, peace will be possible everywhere.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

For the Love of Physics - Happy Valentines Day

Most of my friends know that I love Physics, so much so that I ended up with a degree in it. But I'm sure you're wondering why I'd blog on something like my love of Physics on Valentines Day. What could Physics have to do with love. Admittedly, I'm single and home alone, so this may be the result of boredom but bear with me.

Newtonian Physics were straightforward and easy to visualize in my mind. Place some weights and forces on some slides and pulleys, examine the triangles and friction, shake it up with trigonometry and algebra, and suddenly the Whole Universe split open into easy to understand concepts. Every second year Physics student might think, "gee, this stuff is easy". But then we leave the sane macro world easily examined by the five senses and enter a world that can only be intuited through complex and advanced mathematical gymnastics. The human brain becomes the contortionist, bending itself around multiple dimensions of space, where electrons vanish and then reappear without giving away their travel plans. Then enters Heisenberg and his disturbing uncertainty principle. People of science are not comfortable with "uncertainty". He tells us that it is not possible to know both the location and the speed of an object under study because a soon as we attempt to measure one value, the other will become even more uncertain, the certainty with which we can know these values are inversely proportional so if certainty of position is increased then the momentum or speed certainty is decreased. What this suggests, which has become known by the name "observer effect", is that the mere act of observation changes the object being observed. This seems to rise above the physical world and into a world of magic and mist. It's a world that says if I look at you I change you.
Stepping cautiously from the realm of Physics to that of Metaphysics we see a similar concept emerge. Have you ever been sitting in a room of strangers, or on a bus, and felt eyes burrowing into the back of you skull turn to look and find indeed someone looking directly at you? I think most people have experienced this. Even our animal friends seem to be attuned to this phenomena. My cat may be sound asleep next to me, but if I look at her for very long her eyes open and she returns the stare. Remember that moment when you first made eye contact with your love and felt an explosion of butterflies set free from the daisy fields of your root chakra. Buddha instructs us to be our own observer. Do we change under our own gaze? I believe we do. We are much more powerful beings than we give ourselves credit for. Our eyes are more than just windows to the soul, they are doors that we chose to open or close to others. Why is it that when we're wounded and hurting we avert our eyes from others? We know that our eyes will give away our emotions, whether tears are present or not. When I want to make a complicated argument I look away from the eyes of the person I'm talking with so as to not get lost in their reaction to what I'm saying until I've completed the thought, then I immediately seek out their eyes to see if my words have resonated or been lost in translation. When I'm happy and secure I make eye contact with everyone that passes by me but on days when I'm down or distracted by the business of my life, I rarely engage, robbing both myself and others of this gift we all have to share.

As a child and as a mother I know both that look I got when I was trespassing on dangerous grounds and the look I give my own daughter when she does something I don't approve of. I also know the look she gives me when we're connecting and communicating, or the amazing smile she gifts me with when I've acknowledged her great creativity and individualism. By observing one another we change each other. The change may be subtle. Your eyes tell me if you like my look, my new haircut, my clothes, or even my gender and how I present myself. Your mouth may say one thing, but your eyes rarely lie. Each of us, from our earliest moments of life, have accepted these unsaid criticisms from others. We have an image of ourselves as we want to be and search the eyes of others seeking a reflection of that image and when it's not there we alter path, or become depressed.

It is here where science meets religion. Science can't explain why our observation changes the behavior of the observed. Science admits it doesn't know everything there is to know because if it did all scientists would be out of jobs. True religion, likewise, is experiential, a daily deepening into the unknown through prayer and meditation, reflection and contemplation. Extremists claim to know all there is and maybe that's why they're bored and driving the rest of us crazy with their Intelligent Designer, Creation Museum and the promotion of racist wars to hurry God along to Armageddon. But the religious contemplative accepts uncertainty, sits with it, and then smiles at the next person passing by. There is no greater religion or science than that of love. It is my belief that we are one, each of us like a ray from the same shining star, and when we look at each other in love we feel ourselves closer to that whole. We must look for that light in each others eyes. We must also recognize how deeply buried it can become under years of filters like unyielding dogma, abuse, neglect, anger, mistrust and endless other scars and scratches becoming cloudy cataracts over our beautiful lenses. When we see those scars in others, we cannot continue to avert our own light giving gaze, but rather burn through that haze to reflect to them that they truly are a beautiful human being.

So the next time that you pass by me please smile and look me in the eye, even for a brief moment, so that we might reflect to each other the Infinite light of love. And if your bored maybe we can go out for a coffee and talk Physics for awhile.

On that I invite you to enjoy the following Peter Gabriel video, a long time favorite song of mine, In Your Eyes.

An Evening with Parke Burgess

Join us for another adventure in nonviolence as we welcome author Parke Burgess as our guest speaker. He will discuss his book Our Tragic Flaw, A Case for Nonviolence. For the first time in the history of life, a single species has acquired the means to destroy itself and all other living things on the planet. By most indications—if we ignore what it says but examine what it does—this species seems perversely bent upon its own destruction. This species, of course, is us. How did we come to imperil ourselves? And why do we continue to do so? Is it too late to change course? If not, how can it be done?
The discussion will be followed by a reception where Parke will gladly sign books. $10 donation suggested, but no one turned away for lack of funds. This event is hosted by First Unitarian Peace Action and Peaceforce Oregon.

Time and Place
Date: Friday, February 20, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: First Unitarian Curch of Portland, Channing Room
Street: 1011 SW 12th Avenue
City: Portland, OR

To learn more about Parke and his book visit