8 Sep
2017
Posted in: Poems
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The Trouble with Tribes

The Change
by Tony Hoagland

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine.
In the park the daffodils came up
and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes–

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies,
and the new president proves that he’s a dummy.

But remember the tennis match we watched that year?
Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama,
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms,
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite–

We were just walking past the lounge
and got sucked in by the screen above the bar,
and pretty soon
we started to care about who won,

putting ourselves into each whacked return
as the volleys went back and forth and back
like some contest between
the old world and the new,

and you loved her complicated hair
and her to-hell-with-everybody stare,
and I,
I couldn’t help wanting
the white girl to come out on top,

because she was one of my kind, my tribe,
with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big
and so black,
so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation
down Abraham Lincoln’s throat,
like she wasn’t asking anyone’s permission.

There are moments when history
passes you so close
you can smell its breath,
you can reach your hand out
and touch it on its flank,

and I don’t watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre,
but I could feel the end of an era there

in front of those bleachers full of people
in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes

as that black girl wore down her opponent
then kicked her ass good
then thumped her once more for good measure

and stood up on the red clay court
holding her racket over her head like a guitar.

And the little pink judge
had to climb up on a box
to put the ribbon on her neck,

still managing to smile into the camera flash,
even though everything was changing

and in fact, everything had already changed–

Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged,
it was past us
and we were changed.

***

That’s right, Tony. Change happened — IS happening. And it’s GOOD. May you and your tribe be able to see that at last.

7 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Racism
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But Not All of Us

Three of my CDL buddies and I are continuing our “Waking Up to Whiteness” study group by assigning ourselves books to read (ones that we most likely would never have read in the past) and then talking about them together once a month. The book we’re reading now is Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life, by David Billings.

Here’s a passage that has really stayed with me:

The dominant culture in the US has always lifted up the nation’s ‘rugged individualism’ as key to understanding ourselves as a people.

But not all of us have been allowed to be individuals. People of color have always been lumped together as part of a group even when the grouping made no sense (Hispanic), was ahistorical (American Indians), or culturally insulting (Asian).

Only white people are allowed to be individuals, first and foremost.

6 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books
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Both the Motivation and the Destination

Yesterday I started reading Phillip Moffitt’s new book, Awakening through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness for Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Practitioners.

This is not a beginner’s book.

In the Introduction Phillip writes: “Inevitably, if students practice meditation with intensity, altered mind states will arise for most of them. These mind states can be extremely pleasant and involve an altered sense of perceptions, or a dazzling sense of well-being or clarity of mind that is so enticing that students obsess about wanting to have more of such an experience. It is easy for these states to distract them from the true purpose of meditation, which is to liberate the mind from greed, hatred, and delusion.”

While I am very much excited about the book’s focus on extraordinary mind states, the passage that really resonates with my deepest experience is this:

“What I have found thus far in my own journey is that love (not romantic, self-referential love, but rather the mysterious, interdependent oneness that is beyond the ego) is both the motivator for the journey and its final destination.”

I can’t wait to read more.

5 Sep
2017
Posted in: Art, Classes
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Buddha Comes to Dogtown

It’s a long story, but just let me say: I am thrilled to announce that this fabulous Buddha statue, which used to reside at MacroSun (on Washington Avenue), has now come to live at my house (in Dogtown). I am SO HAPPY. And now that I’ve got such an auspicious space to meet, I’m going to starting working on organizing a new dharma discussion and study group! Stay tuned.

 

1 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Teachers
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If I’m Going to Die…

“If I’m going to die, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind & open my heart. If I’m going to live, the best way is to quiet my mind & open my heart.” 

News from Mirabai Bush, my beloved dharma teacher, mentor, and deep dear friend:
She and Ram Dass have just finished writing their second book together, this one on love and dying, to be published by Sounds True. (Their first book was Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service, written in 1991.) No release date announced just yet. Stay tuned!

31 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Let Things Through

Endless Pools
by Mark Nepo

I am awake. It wasn’t always so.
It may not last for long. So let me
say this while my heart is beating like
a river. This life is more than we can
bear. It’s taken years to learn this, to
feel this, to know this in my bones. I’m
not talking about giving up or enduring.
I mean we’re not designed to bear it all.
Anymore than the sun bears the sky or
the wind bears the thousands of leaves
it moves through. We’re only meant to
let things through. I am awake. This time

I fell to it. I was productive. Some said on
fire. Then I tripped on something small.
Like a pebble in your shoe. And fell out
of the dance I had created. The one by
which I knew my worth. I couldn’t get
it back. It depressed me for months. But
like a whale I kept diving down and com-
ing up. Despite the parting of my dream.
Now I’m awake as I never imagined. This
doesn’t preclude pain or weather or dis-
appointment. These as well as joy land
in the lake-like depth that has held us since
birth. Come. Look. Like an endless pool
that clears after a violent rain, you can
see through me. I am awake. 

30 Aug
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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I Know What to Do!

In a delightful little collection of essays on Compulsive Helping, Ajahn Amaro writes:

“Our thinking mind loves to diagnose. I confess to having a thinking mind that loves to figure things out… Certainly the intellect does have its place; it is truly useful to be able to figure out how things work, but we can be over-prone to that.

We can unwittingly take refuge in having an explanation. The mind can reach forward: ‘I know what’s going on! I understand this. I read a book about it I did a course on this. I know what’s happening here!

“We immediately go to the memory, the idea, the concept and in so doing we miss what is before us, what we are in the middle of, what we are a part of. Because we have absorbed our attention in the diagnosis, we miss the actuality.

“I’m not saying that we should never push, make an effort or diagnose. It is not that we should stifle the intellect or suppress our recognition of patterns, rather it’s a question of holding these things in perspective

“When we’re faced with suffering, particularly other people’s suffering, we can feel: ‘I’ve got to do something!’ Everything is telling us: ‘Don’t just sit there, do something!’… But that urge to help and to do can often be coming from our own insecurity or our own need to be a helpful person. Our need to help may form part of our identity….

“When there is a need to do something, there may indeed be things that we can do, but that very urge, that agitated tension which wants to jump in and fix something, may be the very element that gets in the way….

“I’m not trying to encourage a quality of dissociation… This teaching is not a cold distancing or an attempt to alienate ourselves from feeling the suffering of others. I don’t advocate adopting some kind of false objectivity; I’m not trying to encourage that.

“What I am hopping is that through our spiritual practice we can find that place which is fully empathetic with the suffering of others and the difficulties that we experience, while not suffering on account of them.”

***

This is why Phillip Moffitt alway asks his students to take what he calls “secondary vows of renunciation,” which are: No Judging, No Comparing, No Fixing!

29 Aug
2017
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Without Clinging

Impossible Dream
by Tony Hoagland

In Delaware a congressman
accused of sexual misconduct
says clearly at the press conference,
speaking
right into the microphone,
that he would like very much
to do it again.

It was on the radio
and Carla laughed
as she painted, Die, You Pig
in red nail polish
on the back of a turtle
she plans to turn loose tomorrow
in Jerry’s backyard.

We lived near the high school that year
and in the afternoons, in autumn,
you could hear the marching-band rehearsals
from the stadium:
off-key trumpets carried by the wind,
drums and weirdly smeared trombones:

a ragged “Louie Louie”
or sometimes, “The Impossible Dream.”

I was reading a book about pleasure,
how you have to glide through it
without clinging,
like an arrow
passing through a target,
coming out the other side and going on.

Sitting at the picnic table
carved with the initials of the previous tenants;
thin October sunlight
blessing the pale grass–
you would have said we had it all–

But the turtle in Carla’s hand
churned its odd, stiff legs like oars,
as if it wasn’t made for holding still,

and the high-school band played
worse than ever for a moment
–as if getting the song right
was the impossible dream.

***

Not impossible, Tony. Not easy, but not impossible.

28 Aug
2017
Posted in: CDL, Racism, Study
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What We Imagine Ourselves to Be

Another one of the readings that’s part of the first session of the “Waking Up to Whiteness” program I posted about yesterday is an article written by Bhikkhu Bodhi, titled: Taking Stock of Oneself.

Here is an excerpt:
“Normally, in subservience to our need to confirm to ourselves our uniqueness and irreplaceable importance, we proceed to construct mental pictures–indeed, a picture gallery–of what we imagine ourselves to be.

“The self-image that emerges from these pictures becomes simultaneously a mainstay which we cling to in order to maintain our self-esteem and a standpoint from which we orient ourselves toward others and launch our projects in the world. To secure its tenuous status. the mind employed a variety of tactics ‘behind the back’ of our conscious awareness.

“It throws up blinders which keep out disturbing information; it flatters us with fantasied projections; it drives us to manipulate people and situation in ways that will seem to validate our tacit assumptions about our virtues and identity.

“All these projects born of the quest to substantiate our sense of identity only increase our suffering. The more we lock ourselves into the images we form of ourselves, the more we alienate ourselves from others and close off our access to liberating truth. Thence release from suffering requires that we gradually discard our delusive self-images through rigorous examinations of our minds.

“The venerable Sariputta, in the Discourse on No Blemishes (MN5), stresses the role of honest self-assessment as a prerequisite of spiritual growth. He points out that just as a dirty bronze bowl, deposited in a dusty place and utterly neglected, only becomes dirtier and dustier, so if we fail to recognize the blemishes in our minds we will not make any effort to eliminate them, but will continue to harbor greed, hatred and delusion and will die with a corrupted mind….

The task of self-knowledge is always a difficult one, but it is only by knowing our minds that we will be able to shape them, and it is only by shaping our minds that we can liberate them.”

***

And so we begin.

25 Aug
2017
Posted in: CDL, Racism, Study
By    1 Comment

I Didn’t Know I Was Suffering

I am so grateful for what I learned — for what I have been released from — by working through the “Waking Up to Whiteness” curriculum (organized by members of the East Bay Meditation Center) that I have just formed a new “Waking Up” group and will go through the program again with them.

One of the readings the group will be discussing during our first session is a letter written by Kristin Barker, one of the organizers of the curriculum. Here’s an excerpt:

“There’s good reason we find this work so challenging! In the US, whiteness is made, by whiteness, invisible. In my own life, I was taught not that I was ‘white’ but that I was ‘normal.’ Being ‘just a normal person,’ I was trained to believe that any advantages I have achieved in this life, whatever they are, were owed to my own merit, hard work, or at most to my ‘good fortune.’

“The notion that I have benefitted — and continue to benefit enormously  — from not just historical but from the ongoing oppression of others was quite understandably disturbing to my sense of self….

“Suddenly I became aware that people of color knew something about me that I didn’t know, that I was, for instance, wrong in conceiving of myself as ‘normal’ and that I was unknowingly benefiting from — and even perpetuating — the dominance of white people. People of color knew I was white and they knew, so much better than I, what that meant in this world…

“And of course this would challenge me deeply for how painful it is to recognize my role in oppression when I don’t experience myself as ‘doing anything wrong.‘ The only upside to these realizations seemed to be my interest — shaky at times — in truth. And yet there was something more.

The truth is that I didn’t know I was suffering. The understanding of deep interdependence means that operating in a culture that objectifies, exploits and oppresses, even and especially when hidden from the dominant view, divides the heart against itself. It can be deeply challenging to lean into this. To be willing to look and not waiver is to open to suffering on a massive scale…

“But this is what I want to share and why I wanted to write this letter. The upside is no much greater than I knew, so much greater than just ‘accepting the hard truth’ like a bitter pill. I submit that the upside isn’t even learning to do less harm to people of color, although that is a necessity.

The upside is wholeness. I have found that, just as promised, if I can turn towards the suffering of racism, against my ego’s self-protecting tendencies, I do experience pain — yet I come to suffer less.

“Some resistance is released. Some wall is dissolved. I may be bewildered and disoriented, but I am strangely more whole. From this place there seems the potential to be (with time and practice) more honest, more courageous and perhaps more truly useful to the causes that move me. My relationships with people of color are more authentic. I can occupy my own location of privilege with more honesty and so much less to defend….

“As uncomfortable, as painful, as disconcerting, as overwhelming as it may be, we have the opportunity to respond individually and collectively, supporting one another in seeing through delusion and making a new way

“I believe we have an incredible opportunity to know deeply the ways that racial divisions, and all forms of division, maintain our suffering. And in so doing we can not only make ourselves more whole but we can radiate whatever understanding we develop out into our world.

May we be wildly successful!

***

Kristin completely captures my own experience in going through the program. It was hard, but it was liberating!!!

If you’d like more information about the “Waking Up to Whiteness” curriculum or are interested in forming a group of your own, please email me here.