Friday, December 23, 2011

How Occupy Stole Christmas

Dr. Suess was the first author many of us learned and loved.  This time of year it is the Grinch.  I remember how I looked forward each year to seeing the Grinch on t.v. and hearing that wonderful deep narration by Boris Karloff and the singing voice of Thurl Ravenscroft (also Tony the Tiger for my generation t.v. viewers and cereal munchers).  It was the highlight of the Christmas season.  I've often wondered why that show, of all Christmas shows, was the one that was a must see for me.  Charlie Brown was cute, but not that interesting.  Rudolf was downright sexist (have you seen it since the 70s?).  There was Frosty and the others, but none captured my attention the way that the Grinch did.  Recently, I was asked to do a reading for a group that would help blend the message of the Occupy movement with the season and I immediately thought of my favorite childhood Christmas show.  Here's what I read:

It was quarter past dawn...
All the Whos, still a-bed
All the Whos, still a-snooze
When he packed up his sled,
Packed it up with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings!
The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Crumpit,
He rode to the tiptop to dump it!
"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
"The all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,
"That I simply must hear!"
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow...

But the sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

What was the Grinch's complaint after all?  He was disgusted by the materialism of the holiday.  I feel this same disgust each and every year.  It's only exacerbated by the fact that I now have a 7 year old that thinks Santa should bring everything her heart desires. 

So what would happen in the US if families woke to find their homes "robbed" of all the Christmas loot?  I doubt we'd all join hands and sing in the streets.  You could probably even determine a person's political leanings by their reactions.  The Republicans would be looking in all the nearby neighborhoods and stealing what they could to make their own Christmas seem a little better (aided by the US Military naturally).  The Libertarians would form a well armed posse to seek out the sneakly 'ol Grinch and then they'd shoot him and mount him over a fireplace.  The Democrats would wait to see what everyone else did and then try to do what the Republicans are doing all the while smiling and assuring everyone that all is well.  There would be the idealistic folks that hold hands around the city tree downtown and sing - and they would be happy.  Then there are those of us who would be busy researching all the activities, blogging about it, tweeting it out, posting on Facebook, flash mobbing, and having a protest about it, but once we're certain that the Republicans are not behind the whole thing we might join hands and sing too.  The young, the visionaries and those who can see into tomorrow because it belongs to them, they would bring a tent and set it up by the tree, and they start singing loud enough to scare the Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians.  Those of us busy networking the event feel our hearts grow at least three times larger watching their courage and loving the sound of their voices rising up.  They are the Spirit of Christmas and of the Rebel Jesus.  They are the ones feeding the homeless.  They are the ones acknowledging the true worth and dignity of each living being.  They are the ones experimenting with real democracy at each General Assembly, sitting for hours to make sure even the smallest Who has a say.  It is their voices that soften the Grinch in people like me this season.  Merry Christmas Occupy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I completed my fifth year at Novellus Systems Inc where I manage the analytical lab and virtual library.  One of the benefits of this passage of time is that I was given a five week sabbatical.  So this was my year.  I was allowed to split up my time so my first week was spent at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in Vancouver BC with my daughter.  The retreat posed many challenges for me, and as the Buddha would suggest, the rewards were equally remarkable.  Since my daughters birth I had come to compartmentalize my life - there's the spiritual woman on her journey to truth, the student of nonviolence, the worker and the mother.  As you may note I'm missing some crucial aspects of my life, but I'm still a work in progress.  On this retreat the biggest challenge was bridging my parenting role with that of seeker.  There was a constant tug between meeting her needs and following my own desires for the experience of mindful living in the larger community of lay followers.  After a few battles of will I finally realized that becoming the mindful parent was the beneficial outcome.  I had to let go of my attachment to a version of myself that was at odds with what I needed to be in that moment.  For the benefit of my small happy family I let go of it and came back to the present moment to give my daughter what she most needed - me.  My child is my practice just as much as sitting on a cushion is my practice or walking in nature or nonviolence.  It was not a lesson learned gracefully, but learned nonetheless.

As I looked over my calendar and contemplated my remaining sabbatical time I noticed a particularly busy time coming up in October so I scheduled three weeks off, from October 3rd through the 21st.  The USNPCA typically has it's conference the weekend of Indigenous People's Day (aka Columbus Day).  This year we decided to move it to Spring.  I decided to keep the time off scheduled so I could work on my new screen play and prepare for a training I had committed to that looked at the C-LARA technique for dialogue through the lens of trauma awareness for interested staff at Sister's of the Road.  My daughter's birthday is October 8th, so I also had a birthday party to organize. Then I had a couple web projects to start on and a presentation to give in Memphis for the PJSA/Gandhi-King Conference.  

As my time off approached I watched with curiosity as the Occupy Wall Street action unfolded on September 16th.  I was pleasantly surprised by the turn out and the adherence to nonviolence.  The week before my sabbatical started I heard that Portland would begin it's own solidarity occupation on October 6th.  As I eased into my lab free days I was called by my good friend Tom to assist in a deescalation training for some of the organizers for the Occupy Portland action.  It was naturally on the same night as my training at Sisters - so I requested Sisters to reschedule and they gladly did for the following Wednesday morning.  This was my first interaction with the local Occupy team.  Most were well versed in social movements and yet we heard subtle rumblings on the "diversity of tactics" topic.  It seems that every movement is plagued by this. It's like a badly scratched record that skips to the ending before it even begins. The following morning the organizers began their rally by meeting together for prayer and meditation.  They held firm to the power of nonviolence and the people came - thousands of Portlanders came with their children and their grandparents.  I saw all generations standing there at the waterfront.  The police were relaxed and jovial.  The 99% united in a moment of truth.  It was nonviolence manifest and a beautiful thing.

My next week started with word through the counter recruitment network that the Portland Public School Board intended to vote on Starbase again, and soon, as well as an option to allow counter recruiters into High Schools.  Another parent and myself crafted a letter for the board and principals of participating schools to please reconsider DoD Starbase, a civil-military program that introduces fifth graders to high tech military careers.   I then collected signatures from local organizations to increase the impact of our humble request.  We collected 25 organizational signatures.  I had also started a petition in September that asks the Board to end this program.  By the night of October 17th, the night of the vote, we had 141 signatures to present them with.  One of the parents who had originally started the movement 6 years earlier lost her temper during the proceedings, undermining our effort to remain respectful and professional.  When thinking about 10 year olds being bussed to a military base for a week of physics fun followed by career counseling on military jobs, it's easy to lose one's hold on emotions and slip into a tantrum, but as a strategy for success it rarely works.  Working against militarization of youth in our culture has taken a front seat in much of my work.  Even the presentation I would give the following week in Memphis was on this topic.  So few realize how insidious this is, but when you begin to read comments in local papers that rant about the "anti-war" people, the veil will lift.  Etched into the angry words is a common fear that the American way of life is not only wrong for the planet and the life on it, but inherently evil.  Programs like Starbase attempt to indoctrinate the next generation into this accepted view that the U.S. is at the top due to it's military, it's willingness to use violence and Divine sanction.  It's my hope, and those of others in this work, to broaden the American vision to include the rest of the world.

While in Memphis the angry parent from the board meeting proceeded to verbally assault members of the Portland Public School board via email.  The language was violent, even inappropriately employing curse words and repeating obscene military chants.  She went to the extreme of tying Starbase to the tragedy in Columbine and pointing her finger in blame to these people if any such tragedy were to happen here.  Admittedly there is a connection between militarism and cultural violence, but we must also consider media, parental acceptance of guns and gun violence, access to guns, bullying, and a host of other issues.  If I believed that ending this program would eradicate all potential for violence for our children, I'd make the ultimate sacrifice to stop it.  But it's only one cog in a much more complicated machine.  Remaining true to my convictions I intervened in the discussion sending a private email to the parent asking that she take it down a notch and suggesting she might look into a workshop on nonviolent communication.  My intervention worked, but not the way I'd hoped, as all her rage turned from the board member toward me.  Her vitriolic reply was copied to all, enraging yet another of the group.  When one other activist in our group defended my stand he also became the object of her scorn as she ranted about our personalities and how we live our lives but not about our tactics, or what was really the core issue causing her anger.  The second person that defended her argued for the diversity of tactics, justifying any language necessary to shock the board members.  No matter how unlikely it is that cussing out the board members will result in a vote in our favor, they insist on the right to do it as representatives of the group.  As a result I have largely withdrawn from the group but continue to work with other groups that have adopted a clear nonviolent code of conduct. 

During the conference in Memphis we were gifted by the presence of many academics, K-12 teachers and activists from across North America.   Occupy Memphis was in full swing and many from the conference joined them for a march to the Lorraine Hotel, where MLK Jr. was assassinated.  As I watch the Occupy movement grow in number Dr. King often comes to mind.  I believe his work to bring poverty to the attention of the world was what motivated his assassin.  He would be so proud of this new Occupy movement.  Maybe one day the rich will realize that the best way to stay in positions of advantage is to make sure there is no poverty.  Dolores Huerta gave a cheer for the 99%, "Si, Se Puede" - Yes We Can.  Another great soul Pancho Ramos Stierle told us about Karma Kitchen and how we all should practice radical kindness.  I had met Pancho years before in Oakland while there for an educators for nonviolence conference.  Then he and his family stayed with us at Whitefeather and my daughter just adored him.  He gives the best hugs and simply exudes loving kindness to all he meets.

While at the conference I listened to a great panel discussion on principled versus strategic nonviolence.  What I loved most was that the question of nonviolence was not at issue, there was no talk of the diversity of tactics amongst this esteemed group of panelist including Michael Nagler, Matt Meyer, Elavie Ndura, and Daryn Cambridge.  Gene Sharp provided 198 nonviolent tactics in his book and since then at least that many more have been added.  There is no shortage of diversity of tactics.  Maybe tactic is the wrong word, it's more like a vibe.  Will the movement honor a welcoming grandparents and child friendly vibe so that the real 99% can participate.  Or will it take on an adversarial and violent vibe that only the young and immortal can participate in.  

My three weeks of corporate freedom have long since ended.  I watched as the Nov. 2nd General Strike happened in Oakland - amazed by the people power.  The next morning I was saddened to see that the diversity of vibes had won the media with images of violence. But on the morning of the 14th I saw this image, of my friend Pancho Ramos Stierle, mediating at the Occupy Oakland.  He was one of 32 people arrested during the sweep early Monday in Frank Ogawa Plaza.  Now he faces deportation.  His action has brought awareness of the growing issues facing our immigrant population along with the issues already being forced into the open by the Occupy movement.  Looking at the various images from Oakland, it is with Pancho that I most resonate and feel the force of peaceful protest.  I would gladly take my daughter with me to sit with Pancho.  He has learned the lesson that I struggled with in August, and that the angry parent from Portland still struggles with - sometimes we have to let go of our own narrative and do what's best for the larger family of One. After all, isn't that what we're asking the School Board to do, the police, the politicians, and the 1% - how can we do any less.

Pancho's arraignment is at 2pm on Wednesday the 15th.  Please sign this petition for his release.  If you are in Oakland, be a peaceful presence at the courthouse.  Thanks!

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Empires Fall

This is not my work, but from another site.  I found the historical parallels quite interesting.  I'm hoping the ending will be written differently for America in that the masses rise up nonviolently, ending the US power projection abroad, creating a new egalitarian democracy and living up to the dreams of our founding fathers. 

We all know that our empire is falling apart (read Johan Galtung's The Fall of the US Empire).  It is up to us to define what replaces it.  

Reading the research of Chenoweth we now know that to create lasting democracy it must be a nonviolent people's movement.  A violent revolution typically only brings a more oppressive leadership, or just more of the same. We seeing the beginning of this now, with Occupy Wall Street which is spreading to Financial districts in many major cities.  If you participate, please take a pledge of nonviolence.  Let's stand together to make this country better for all of us, the 99%.

The link to the original piece is at the bottom if you're interested.


The Romans (Americans) called the people who lived outside the Roman Empire barbarians (foreigners, terrorists or aliens). In the 4th century AD the Roman Army (US Military) had considerable difficulty in stopping these Barbarians (terrorists) from entering the Roman Empire (including all the occupied territories like Iraq, Afghanistan, all of Latin America - well, shucks, doesn't the whole world really belong to the US).  The Romans were forced to increase the size of their army. By the end of the 4th century AD it had grown to 600,000 men. Of these, 250,000 were stationed on Rome's northern borders (occupied nations).

Taxation had to be increased to pay for this large army. These taxes were higher than most people could afford and created wide-scale poverty (doesn't the war economy work for you?!). Some people were forced to sell their children into slavery (or just ignore them and let the gangs or violent media raise them), while others died of starvation.

Plague also became a problem and during one outbreak people in Rome were dying at the rate of 5,000 a day (you just can't afford a good health care system when you have wars to pay for). The population of the Roman Empire began to fall dramatically (the true blue European bred Americans that is) and this in turn reduced the numbers of people available to join the army.

The growth of Christianity also created problems for the Roman Empire. Large numbers of Roman citizens became monks and refused to get married and have children. This not only contributed to the fall in population but also reduced Roman tax revenues.

Some Christians claimed that Jesus had preached non-violence (radical religious zealots). Christians who interpreted the words of Jesus in this way often refused to join the Roman army. Even citizens who were not Christians were reluctant to join, and emperors were forced to recruit slaves, gladiators and criminals (Want to become a US citizen or join the biggest baddest gang on the planet?). It was also decided to employ barbarian mercenaries (Blackwater Boys or We don't practice torture but you're not staying in a US prison...). This created long-term problems as the barbarians did not always remain loyal to their Roman paymasters (Saddam, you'll be sorry...).

Some Roman citizens, upset by heavy taxation and suffering from poverty, formed themselves into an armed resistance group called the Bagaudae (The Tea Party). This movement started in Gaul in AD 283 but during the 4th and 5th centuries spread to other parts of the empire. These groups of rebels attempted to set up their own independent states within the empire (Waco TX, Ruby Ridge and who knows where else) but the Romans, with the help of barbarian mercenaries, were eventually able to crush them.
However, with the Roman army spending more and more time suppressing its own citizens, it became easier for the Germans to defeat those guarding the frontiers. Between AD 406 and 419 the Romans lost a great deal of their empire to different German tribes. The Franks conquered northern Gaul, the Burgundians took eastern Gaul, while the Vandals replaced the Romans in Hispania.

The Romans were also having difficulty stopping the Saxons, Angles and Jutes overrunning Britain. In AD 410 Emperor Honorius warned the Romans in Britain that they could no longer rely on reinforcements being sent from other parts of the empire.

Sculptured relief of Roman soldiers fighting the barbarians.

Alaric, a Visigoths leader, took part in several campaigns under the Romans. However, when he did not receive the expected promotion in the Roman Army, he led his people against the empire (Is this next?). Alaric now demanded that the Visigoths should have their own independent state. In AD 410 Alaric's army was strong enough to enter Rome. Roman slaves joined with the Visigoths in sacking the city. With the slaves joining his army, Alaric now had 40,000 men at his disposal. After roaming around the Roman Empire, the
Visigoths eventually decided to settle in Aquitania.

In AD 435 Gaiseric and his Vandal army captured Rome's African province. As Rome relied heavily on African food, this was a serious blow to the survival of the empire. From his base in Carthage, Gaiseric was able to launch sea-raids on Rome. In AD 455 Gaiseric was strong enough to invade Rome and plunder the city.

In the years that followed the Romans also lost southern Gaul. It now became clear that it was only a matter of time before the Roman Army would be completely defeated and the Barbarians who had been recruited into the Roman army began to desert in large numbers (Where's the loyalty?).

In AD 476, Odoacer, leader of the barbarian mercenaries in the Roman army, overthrew Emperor Romulus Augustulus, and installed himself as King of Italy. The Roman Empire in the west had come to an end. However, the eastern empire, ruled from Constantinople, continued for another thousand years. It was not until 1453, when Mehmed II captured Constantinople, that the Byzantine Empire, as it became known, ceased to exist.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Before you Engage, Disengage

Last Spring I took a class on engaged Buddhism and one of our readings was Thich Nhat Hanh's book Interbeing. The book covers fourteen trainings, or precepts, to guide the engaged Buddhist. In this post I'll share some thoughts on the first. If you have thoughts to share I'd love to see your comments.

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.


We are all seeking Ultimate Truth, but we must recognize that the conventional, or relative truths that we deal with in social justice and human rights are dynamic. Our version of truth is too often one sided, leaning to the benefit our own sense of righteousness. Those who protest the inhumane slaughter of whales and dolphins by Japan, but later sit down to a steak dinner, are pinched in hinge of relative truth. They can clearly see that the violence of a dolphin slaughter by others far away is wrong, but yet can turn a blind eye to the slaughter and suffering they ignorantly promote by paying for the flesh on the plate before them. A similar dilemma comes up with female genital mutilation which we take voice against, while we conveniently ignore the fact that our own infant sons endure their first cruelty from the world upon their birth with the archaic ritual of circumcision. By releasing ourselves from views and rigid dogma, we can untangle our perception of the world from our culture and religion.

Blind faith and obedience to religious leaders has caused so much sorrow in the world. Some of my first recollections of church were not kind. My parents were pleasant and friendly to people while at the church, but on the drive home they would pick them apart, speculating on this and that persons flaws, while reminding my brother and I not to repeat a word of what we heard. There were too many examples of hypocrisy in the churches we attended in my youth. It didn't seem to me that the message from the pulpit made much impression on the folks in the pews. Speech, thought and action were somehow out of sync. When we think about human nature one characteristic that seems true to me is the need for the world we perceive to make sense with the world we've constructed in our mind. When there is discrepancy in these two worlds we can either undergo personal introspection and analysis to see our way to a new level of truth or we can take the easier route and sacrifice truth and instead blame some aspect of the outside world for not matching up. To me, this is where religious extremism comes in. This isn't to say we shouldn't envision a better world in our mind and then work toward that goal. Have you ever gone a trip and had every detail work out exactly as you planned ahead of time? And when that plan didn't work out how did you respond? Did you give up and go back home, or yell at the airline attendant or taxi driver or hotel concierge? Or did you ask the locals for alternatives, did you adjust your thinking to the new truth and move forward with a smile.

One reason that Nonviolent Peaceforce is so effective is their dedication to non-partisanship. So many conflicts are delineated along national, ethnic or religious lines, so that a peace army must cautiously walk on the line of neutrality in order to build the necessary trust of all parties involved. In a time of political and religious fanaticism it is vital that the vision of the nonviolent warrior remain clear. We are living the global consequences of clinging to ideas.

In a few hours I will be on Amtrak, headed to a week long retreat with Thay. I feel so very fortunate to have such an opportunity as this and even more so that I can share it with my daughter. I will also share with those stopping by this blog. With deep bows of gratitude.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mother's Love

This video of the cat hugging her kitten has gone viral to an extent rarely seen.  The comments are in every language.  I've watched it several times myself and each time I feel warmth radiate from my center accompanied by a sensation of belonging and love.  Every human on this planet shares the desire for mother's love.  I hope most have experienced this as infants, but the reality is that still so many do not.  It wasn't even until the 1950's that we began to understand just how important this affection between a primary caregiver (doesn't have to be biological mom) and an infant really is.  So much of our future happiness, our intelligence and our ability to engage in the world hinges on those first few months and years.  It's so interesting to me that our species has roamed the planet in our current form for ~300k years, and yet only in the last 50 years have we begun to really understand who and what we are in a scientific way.  Yet as we watch this video we can't help but feel the stirrings of our true self as a dependent, social animal that thrives by love.  Maybe if we could stop torturing our primate cousins for the answers, and begin listening to our own intuitive knowledge we would find these answers much more readily.  We are all needy.  We are not islands. 

Extending this to our political world it becomes clear why the American experiment is failing.  Americans have come to value independence so greatly that we continue force our young towards that goal from the beginning, often isolating them in a crib apart from the warmth and heartbeat of a loving adult from the moment of birth.  The message of "dog eat dog" capitalism pounds viciously against our need for cooperation.  This is the natural outcome of a population of adults who as infants were left to cry themselves to sleep in a dark room night after night, eventually realizing that there is no one, not even their mother, who will come to their rescue or assuage their fears.  Our brains wire to this reality creating a person that will be more aggressive, less compassionate, and less happy.  When primates are isolated the desperation and later, depression, become so intense they begin to chew their legs as if attempting to end their time in this existence, and many just die.  I think America is suffering from too much independence and now seems to be gnawing at itself in a national suicide attempt.  But maybe this little kitten is our suicide hotline.  Let yourself open to that sweet message and hug your children often.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Missed Perceptions

I've been thinking about perception a lot lately.  The beginning of this reflection was prompted by a recent trip in a zip car.  As I turned on the wipers and began to crawl through the NE maze to I-5 I became aware of how little I could see.  Even after the foggy windows cleared I could only glimpse the world through windows and mirrors with many blind spots.  Driving gives a false sense of security, of being safely ensconced in this metal box which could in an instant become a steel trap or worse, a coffin.  This sense of security leaves the mind free to roam miles away from the moment, to take a quick look at the latest text message, change the radio station or take that call, giving way to irritation and anger when other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians call  the mind back to sudden awareness of present moment and requiring a split second response.  Why is it that we get so irritated when people demand our attention at the present moment, shouldn't we already be there?

When riding my bike the blind spots, foggy windows and mirrors are gone, my vision of the world around me limited only by the flexibility of my neck.  I can see in front and behind, but never both.  The mind becomes focused on the next moment, will that car turn, will they stop for the sign, is the light going to change, where's the next clear space that I can dart through, and on and on.  The mind wanders less, feeling the cool air and rain on the face reminding that every moment counts.  The scenery speeds by, lost in a blur.  No time to stop and smell that newly bloomed red tulip.

Then there are the days that I take to the streets on foot.  The world unfolding slowly, each step moving me seconds through the mile.  Time to smile, wave, give a buck, smell a flower, watching the cyclists whiz by in deep focus and motorist motoring by in their own oblivion to the sweet smelling tulip that my daughter and I stop to inhale.

I deeply cherish these slower moments lately.  Ten days ago I experienced the world from yet another vantage point, a new perspective, that dropped me to stillness.  It was a normal Monday.  I cruised to work on the bike, enjoying the strong pulse of energy and oxygen surging through my sunrise express to the Portland waterfront.  About two hours into my work day I began to experience a discomfort in the center of my chest.  As the day progressed the discomfort demanded more of my attention.  By the time I was reunited with my bike I doubted my ability to ride.  By then my breathing was shallow and attempts at deep breathing caused a surge of pain into my neck and ears.  So I abandoned the bike, bused to my daughter's school and then we walked to another stop to catch a bus to the ER.  The courteous staff at Legacy Emmanuel wasted no time in collecting EKG data from me and entertaining my six year old daughter.  During my five hours in the ER I had ample time to practice mindfulness, taking comfort in the embrace of the compassionate Tara as her mantra diverted my mind from worries of the unknown.  As I was being wheeled to the CT Scanner, my housemate walked with my daughter down the same hallway and out of the ER.  In that frozen moment I felt a tear escape realizing that if my lease on this body was soon to end I had surrounded myself and my daughter with an amazing network of loving adults and young friends that would be there to help her on her journey.  In those moments I didn't think about religion, politics, my activism, the unfinished screen play, books and poems.  All of these concerns evaporated and in the remaining residue of my life I found only love and gratitude.

Before the night was over I had blood work, chest x-rays, a CT Scan and the relief of knowing I did not have a heart attack or anything growing in my lungs.  Again, the supportive housemate came to collect me at the ER.  I found a sleepy eyed and smiling daughter in my bed, where I gladly curled up next to her for some sweet slumber.  One week later all trace of the pain was gone.  I see a cardiologist next week just to make sure all is indeed well with my heart.

I haven't resumed my daily bike rides yet, but have opted for the slower route.  My daughter and I are monitoring the tulips each day, anticipating which ones will be fully open and admiring the variety of color they bring to our day.  There's a particularly sweet smelling red one on the corner of Multnomah Blvd and NE 21st St.  So if you rambling by in your car, or rolling past on a bike, you just might want to park it a moment and get out to inhale it's rich aroma.  Oh, and there's another little red one hiding it's vibrant colors under the next bush over.  It is amazing the world that exists just beyond our vision.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walking in Sunshine

I've been walking more lately.  Riding the bike at rush hour with a kiddo on the back is stressful whereas walking is quite the opposite.  Admittedly it takes longer but I have more time between getting off the bus downtown and when I need to be at Alexa's school which is across the river and up 16 blocks.  It's only 2 miles so I can be quite leisurely with it.  Today she went to her father's and I still walked, in the sunshine!!  I forgot how much I love walking (and sunshine).

It would be hard to to plan, but if you're ever in Portland on the first sunny day after about 30 days of rain you're in for quite a show.  Just take a stroll in South East for the most interesting people watching you'll ever experience.  Everyone is happy.  Young girls with glowing white skin will skip around like their only eight, giggling as if they just spied a grasshopper in tall grass.  As we shed our layers of fleece and fuzz, the newly adorned winters artwork from the local tattoo artists shine in techno color.  The food carts become social centers for all the cool hipsters, freaks, geeks and hippies.  The crazy bikes parade down the street, taller than the Humvees and wayyyyy cooler.  Even our homeless are smiling and gregarious.  I stopped and chatted with Ron, a heavy set disabled man.  I asked him if he had been responsible for the sun's appearance today.  He laughed and said he was going to ask me the same thing.  We talked about Obama (a sign he carried asking how we liked Bush dark - Obomba ), our government, the empty houses and all the evils of capitalism.  I asked if he had enough for dinner that night, he said he could use a little more so I dug out my last three bucks.  I told him it was the least I could do for the guy who could get the sun to come out.  We waved farewell as if we were great pals, both happier for the interaction with our fellow human. 

There is so much wrong in the world and yet there are these special days filled with moments fleeting yet somehow frozen in time where everything becomes crisp, clear and perfect.  The world fills me up with its beauty providing this brief glimpse of how it could be if only we would let it.  May I learn to see every day as if it is the first break of sun after a long darkness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Resurrection

The taste of damp sweet Spring teases the palate
A craving for warmth sends chills deeper into bones
Tiny green sprouts struggle for survival
Feeding upon the humus of the old
Birth and death reflected in a drop of morning dew

As the shadows of winter fade my journey turns
Once maiden, then mother
resurrecting once again
Dipping an apprehensive toe into cool wise waters
Enter the crone

As fertility of my flesh fades
Seeds of creative freedom sprout
Feeding on memories of pain, passion, of youth
Dipping the quill into the dark
Rich ink of the soul
May life begin again

Last Sunday Rev Sinkford spoke about resurrection, how we are born and reborn many times in our life. One life change shaking us up and moving us in new direction. Pema Chodron dedicates a whole book to the idea that when things fall apart, when the solid ground beneath out feet suddenly becomes thin as air and we find ourselves in a free fall, it's not necessarily a bad thing. These are moments of tremendous growth.

As I gallop headlong through my 45th year of this life I am confronting new realities. My eyesight is less reliable, requiring drug store cheaters to read. Allergies are cropping up that have never been an issue in the past. And now I begin the transition into the crone phase of this full and wonderful life. With the onset of menopause come new challenges. My early morning meditations are often accompanied by a hot flash or two, reminding me ever more deeply not to mistakenly think myself immortal. Sleep can elude me more with the occasional night sweat.  Taking time to relax physically and mentally has become important. For this reason I have taken up knitting, finding that as I tie little knots into yarn, the tight bundles of knots in my mind loosen as do my muscles.  Another great relaxation is walking back from school with my six year old daughter.  The more present I am in the moment, the more relaxing it is.  Mindfulness is a practice for all ages (pun intended).

I search my feelings for anything hinting of fear or anxiety but find only a sense of relief.  I've wondered at this for a time and it has dawned on me that the women I most admire have all achieved their greatest accomplishments late in life.  I've caught myself many times searching for gray hair on my head and being disappointed when I don't find it.  I'm hoping that I have my greatest accomplishments still ahead of me.  Most of the women I work with in the USNPCA and the UU Peace Action Committee are older than me and I admire their wisdom, beauty, poise and relentless persistence for the cause of peace and social justice.  They are my constant inspiration and role models.

Our culture is so devoid of spirit and heart.  I find myself yearning for a ritual that would connect these moments of passage with my larger sangha or social circle of friends.  With first menses there is a blossoming into womanhood, the maiden.  It is a busy time of love, heartbreak, work, struggle and finding our inner strength. Many cultures have beautiful rituals surrounding this rite of passage.  As we birth new life, dancing with a new spirit who carries some of our spark, we connect with a deep, primitive force that makes us one with all of existence, past, present and future.  By burying the placenta under a rose bush for which my daughter is named, I created our own ritual.  Prior to birth our culture has the baby shower, and my pagan sisters performed a beautiful birthing ritual for me just prior to Alexa'a entry into this realm.  Suckling our young we feel a sense of the order and perfection of this life, just as we doze off to sleep the new born sleep.  We nurture our child and forget ourselves, focused on protecting that bit of our heart with legs, arms, and an inquisitive mind not yet afraid to engage this world.  We give all we have... and then we let go.  The hormones begin to slow, the family needs us less and at last there is space to create in a new way.  A chance to more closely examine the cracks in the mortar to see what we have blocked away in our busy-ness.  Finding wisdom hidden in the hair and mud buried beneath years of tacky wall paper.  In there we are all three; maiden, mother and crone.  In this sacred matriarchal trinity, I am reborn whole.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A New Year

A lot has happened since my last post in July.  I finished a five month web project redesigning the previous static website for United States Nonviolent Peaceforce Chapters Association into a dynamic site to help connect the chapters more closely.  I assisted in organizing the Annual Conference for the USNPCA in Boston, to be held the second weekend in October.  The conference was a great success.  We honored Gene Sharp, or maybe he honored us by attending and giving a talk, with a nice certificate and dinner.  After the conference time was slipping quickly into November, at the end of which I had to finish writing the first draft of a book chapter.  In fact, while my daughter enjoyed a big feast with family, I pedaled to the Red Cross, donated a little of my life blood, was gifted a pumpkin pie for my effort and I spent the remainder of that holiday in my office writing and eating pie.  After sending that off to the editors the holidays were well underway and the dark days upon us.  We enjoyed a beautiful solstice celebration at Whitefeather, leaving all electric lights off while each guest lit four candles upon arrival with four wishes for the New Year.  By the end of the evening the house was bright with candlelight and with renewed energy.  Just before solstice an opportunity came up to join a women's community home in NE Portland with other children, so Alexa would have mates to play and grow with and my bike commute would decrease significantly.  It was also a way to avoid going to see an allergist for headaches and asthma that had begun to plague my respiratory system since moving into the peace house.  So quite out of the blue I picked us up and moved us over the New Year's Eve weekend.  Last night my daughter and I enjoyed our first soak in the private hot tub in the back yard and I felt all the tension and hard work of 2010 begin to leave my weary bones, and today new energy is flowing in.  The morning headaches have vanished and I'm using the nasal spray less and less.  Although I'm a few miles South, I will continue to be an active member of the Whitefeather Peace Community. 

So I begin the New year with a new perspective and energy.  During the time since the IPRA conference in Sydney I've given much thought on my future and how I might bend my vocation more towards nonviolence.  I've explored teaching and leading workshops and find that much to my liking.  I also enjoy doing research.  That's what got me into science to begin with.  So my real interest seems to be in the intersection, looking deeply into the science of nonviolence and then sharing that learning with others.  After looking at PhD programs in the universities across the US and beyond I began to feel a bit stranded from my source.  I realized that for me this work had to be grounded in the philosophies from which it had sprung, my Buddhist leanings.  So I've decided to take a slightly less traveled path and take a course at Maitripa Buddhist College in Portland titled,  Engaged Buddhism: Non-Violence and Social Justice in Buddhist Thought and Practice.  As one who tries to walk the path of an engaged Buddhist, this class intrigued me.  This will be my first class at the college, but not my first event there.  I attended a talk by Robert Thurman - I love his books, but love his public talks even more.  His joviality does not come through in print as it does face to face.  I feel very fortunate to live in a city with a thriving Buddhist college, and I look forward to supporting it with my tuition and my attention.  After this class I'm sure my path will bend again, and I will come back to the blog and take you on that journey as it unfolds.

On another note for the unfolding year, I'm becoming more involved with the counter-militarism subgroup of the UU Peace Action Committee.  Looking back on all the violence in speech, politics and action unfolding in the culture around me I see an urgent need to hold a mirror up to people.  It seems we've gotten lost in the forest and can no longer see the bigger picture and how terribly disturbing it is.  More and more American's are embracing violence as the way to solve their problems, from school yard shootings to assassination attempts.  The NRA and it's supporters jump up and down about the right to bear arms while others are convinced that the government wants to take their guns away in order to control them and the rest of us wonder about the national insanity level and if there's any hope for a future here.  I think the entire country needs a time out, liberals in one corner, the conservatives in the other and the rest of us in whatever corners they leave.  While in that time out, clear your mind and just breathe for a moment.  We all want security for ourselves and our families.  We all want our children and grandchildren to have the resources and time to enjoy life, and a beautiful planet to enjoy as well.  We all really want peace.  But how to get there.  That's up to what you envision during your time outs.  If you're letting your imagination vision death and suffering to those you feel are to blame for your problems, then you will never have peace, nor will those around you.  Take those time outs to paint the reality you desire and begin to take steps to get there.  Look in the mirror everyday and try to see the good in yourself.  You CAN make a difference.

There's a sticker on my bike that says, "We're all in this together".  We need to help each other through this.  Let's make this a New Year we'll want to remember.