Stone Hammered to Gravel: a poem by Martín Espada

An excerpt of Martín Espada’s poem, Stone Hammered to Gravel:

Did you know?
When the bullet exploded the stars
in the cosmos of your body, did you know
that others would read manifestos by your light?
Did you know, after the white ambulance left,
before the coloured ambulance arrived, if you would live at all,
that you would banish the apartheid of the ambulance
with Mandela and a million demonstrators dancing at every funeral?
Did you know, slamming the hammer into the rock’s stoic face,
that a police state is nothing but a boulder
waiting for the alchemy of dust?

Written for a specific person, at a specific time, in a particular place… and yet, and yet. For how long will poetry like this be necessary?

The entire poem:

Stone Hammered to Gravel

for poet Dennis Brutus at eighty Continue reading “Stone Hammered to Gravel: a poem by Martín Espada”

For Nothing is Fixed: podcast and poems

“Fixed” as in: permanent / unmoving / unchanging;
“Fixed” as in: repaired, made whole.

On this theme I present this timely and provocative conversation between Viveka and Paramananda. So much of what Viveka says (and not just in this podcast!) resonates with my experience, in particular:

Just because we’re physically together doesn’t mean we’re vibing together… Just recognizing that when we’re physically together doesn’t mean that all bodies are able to be there in the same way has been a huge teaching for me.

and:

How can we actually co-create a space that everyone is genuinely able to be welcome with others, to be welcoming others? …There’s something about the beautifulness of our differentiation where we can actually welcome each other fully.

Their conversation takes as its springboard this poem by James Baldwin, which Paramananda recites beautifully (and from memory!) at 4:40:

For Nothing Is Fixed
by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

***

Here’s another excerpt of a poem, which I heard for the first time this afternoon. Apparently it is stenciled on the streets of Salem, Massachussetts in such a way that it is only visible when it rains, and I wish I could find the poem in its entirety:

Prema-Bangera-TheArtofHealing

All around the globe, Right Now, people are busy filling in the cracks of our world with gold, and I’m deeply inspired.

Severence by Ling Ma: an excellent lockdown read

I read Ling Ma’s Severance back in March and keep forgetting to give it a glowing recommendation, especially for those of you who are still in lockdown.

Severance

A few of the elements that really worked for me:

  • A fascinating perspective on the benefits (!) of boring office jobs;
  • A mysterious flu with origins in China;
  • Post-pandemic dystopia;
  • Cult dynamics;
  • A solid critique of the internet and how we use it;
  • Philosophical differences revealed through a romantic relationship;
  • A Chinese-American immigration story;
  • The choice between going with the flow vs joining the revolution vs saving yourself; and
  • Geekery related to specifics of publishing books (think: paper weight, binding, and cover materials) to remind me of my former life as a publisher.

Check it out. 4 out of 5 stars!

Both / And: on the experience of existing as woman of color in the Triratna Buddhist movement

The world today is very different from that in which Buddhism originated and flourished…
The challenge Buddhists face today is to find ways of communicating and practising the Dharma that are truly effective in these new circumstances. The situation seems to call for renewal in the Buddhist world, faithful to the Buddha’s own teaching, yet addressing the circumstances we find ourselves in now.

Those are the words of Subhuti, excerpted from his 2012 publication, A Buddhist Manifesto: the Principles of the Triratna Buddhist Community, written at Sangharakshita’s encouragement as a way to spread the latter’s Buddhist principles “to other Buddhists worldwide.”

And.

A problem of the dharma today is that it has become so limited. It has become constricted inside of a kind of fear. We want to maintain control of it, so we resist it evolving as it always has…

…we miss the opportunity before us to liberate ourselves from the obscurations that keep us from knowing who we are, from knowing each other, from knowing that our birthright is exactly love.

Obscuring the path of liberation for us all, simply put, is race. And when I say race, I mean race and ethnicity and heritage and skin color and all of those things that we have conflated into it for hundreds of years.

Those are the words of Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a self-described Black, mixed-raced woman Zen priest, from a recent article, Your Liberation is On the Line.

***

I found this image on the website of an international retreat for women “like me” who are training for Ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order. [Source]

I am currently training for Ordination in the Triratna Buddhist tradition. After years of of studying with a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers in India, Sangharakshita, a man who was brilliant and British, insightful and white, brought his unique vision of the Dharma [= teachings of the Buddha] back to England. From there, this vision has spread throughout the so-called “Western” world and beyond.

The Buddhist movement Sangharakshita founded is the Triratna that I first encountered at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, after a decade+ of intermittent Buddhist study and practice. I may just as likely have encountered it at the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, or any of the dozens of Triratna Buddhist Centres located around the world.

I am deeply grateful for the clarity and accessibility of the Triratna teachings, and even more so for the beautiful Sangha [=spiritual community] that makes the Triratna movement so unique amongst all the other Buddhist disciplines.

And.

I struggle daily with several intersectional aspects of Triratna’s culture, as it manifests at the more-distributed-than-centralized global and local levels. The movement’s history stings of appropriation, colonialism, and patriarchy. Formal Dharma study groups and people training for ordination are separated by gender, with no formal support for people who do not identify as “male” or “female.” At my local Centre, it’s a lot easier to join a study group if you identify as a man, but many women wait months, and must make formal commitments, before being assigned to a group.

There doesn’t seem to be an accepted path to Ordination for parents of young children or people who otherwise don’t have the ability to attend retreats for long periods of time. The retreat Centres we use are not accessible for people with limited mobility, which means that many of our older Sangha members, and those who use walkers or wheelchairs, cannot attend.

There is quite an openness to the queer community. On the male side of the gender divide, that openness has bordered on (crossed into?) concerning abuses of power over the course of Triratna’s history. All but one of the authors whose work is disseminated by the publishing company associated with Triratna appear to be male, though it’s possible I’ve missed someone.

There is subtle scorn (or it simple racism?) directed at “cultural” Buddhists, a term used for those who were born into the tradition without having actively chosen to practice its teachings. The one female author I mentioned earlier also happens to be the only person of color I am aware of amongst their list of authors.

***

Triratna is my spiritual home. The more I learn about Sangharakshita’s history, the lineage of his teachings, and the beautiful and diverse people who are the embodied continuation of that lineage, the more comfortable I become with the late founder of this movement.

And.

I would like to keep my eyes wide open to the suffering that follows from the many issues I mentioned above.

***

I study, first and foremost, as I am encouraged to do, the Dharma as taught by Triratna teachers. Fortunately for all of us, there are far more recorded talks and videos from Triratna Order members of color than there are written works. I am deeply honored to be able to learn from teachers as insightful and skilled and experienced in the importance of diversity and inclusion work as Vimalasara and Viveka.

And.

To keep my cup full, I regularly seek out diverse Buddhist teachings from people who practice in traditions other than the Triratna community. There is so much amazing anti-racist work happening in the Insight Buddhist Community in North America that Buddhist of any affiliation can learn from, for instance. I share these resources in the hope that we all can benefit from — and see ourselves in — the many facets of the dazzling Dharma jewel.

***

To the extent that I have the energy — it takes a lot of emotional labor! — I am committed to actively working with my local Sangha to build a more inclusive approach to sharing the Dharma. This includes regularly engaging with my friends and teachers and Order members and fellow students in designing new ways to communicate with and learn from each other. It includes doing my best to stay engaged, even when it seems as though my concerns are being minimized or dismissed. I try to model the inclusive behavior I would like to see.

And.

I regularly slide into anger, into indignation. I skip right over “the gap” [between feeling and wanting something to be different] more often than I can keep track of. I wonder how regularly I break the precepts that pertain to kindness, generosity, and mindfulness. I am overcome with feelings of Hrī [=remorse] when I reflect on the impact of my unskillful actions. I know that my tone has many times resulted in people feeling shut down or minimised themselves. The cycle of samskara [=habitual tendencies] continues.

***

I try to remember that all things arise based on conditions. I work to include in my compassion all the people who “aren’t racist” but who do not yet fully understand their privilege or the impact of their behavior on others less privileged… which I do not believe is their fault; rather, I see it as a function of their own conditioning.

And.

I say the name of George Floyd aloud, and remind us about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, lest we carry on with our Dharma activities as if this moment of great suffering were not happening. Yes, all beings experience suffering. And we need to be clear that suffering is happening in a very specific way — murder, often at the hands of police! — for Black people right now. And that this suffering is related to the suffering of Māori at the hands of the NZ police, and the suffering of indigenous people around the world. And that this suffering is related to the climate crisis. And that our liberation is tied up in the liberation of Black people in the US, whether we choose to look at those connections or not.

***

This represents what is most alive in me today; tomorrow, I might say something completely different. May we all stay open to the possibility of holding multiple perspectives at once. That is, after all, the promise of liberation — of Enlightenment! — that inspires my practice.

Marches ~ Maya ~ Mycelia

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

Care about the Climate Crisis?#BlackLivesMatter is tied up with your cause, too

On my mind these days:

Intersectionality. Privilege. Divisive binary thinking. What each of us can control and what we can’t.

Emotional labor… which is what it takes for people of color to educate others about the sources of racism, tools for anti-racism, and how to be a good ally (spoiler: there are many ways!).

That often-invisible spectrum that ranges from being comfortable to feeling uncomfortable to being unsafe to being physically harmed to being killed.

How I can effectively support people in making connections between the things they care about and the things they don’t usually choose to look at, especially when there is agency involved… without becoming jaded, judgmental, or unsafe myself.

 

 

Compassion for all beings is compassion in action: Viveka on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary

Lately I’ve been wondering if my belief that I’m acting on behalf of other beings is actually a form of delusional spiritual bypassing.

How can we balance the energy needed to do our own work to address our own delusions, and the energy and work to support the liberation of all beings?

I posed the question above to Viveka during a talk she gave on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary; a month later, I feel even more strongly that we Buddhists could muster a bit more socially-engaged energy while we also use the tools for our own comfort and self care.

Check out her fantastic answer at 45:25 (thank you Viveka ❤ ) or for even more inspiration, watch the entire talk! It starts at 10:07 in this recording and continues for an hour:

What’s your Printery?

I love everything this video reveals about this man, his vision, his spirit, his work in the world… Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr, please take my money!

You will not get a degree
You will not go into extraordinary debt
You will print all day, every day
You will clean type
Wipe up ink
Smell the scent of grinding heavy metal night and day
You will not move back in with your parents
Nor struggle to have a quote/unquote “career”

You can give him money too, via his latest IndieGoGo campaign. Hat tip to Austin Kleon for alerting me (and thousands of other e-newsletter subscribers) to the existence of this inspirational being!

If a contribution isn’t in your budget right now, Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr offers an alternative to “join[ing] the growing movement of people who are taking control of their own damn lives.”

OtherWays

May we all find our own version of The Printery, which is, as Amos describes,

another path, a community that will assist you in achieving your dreams.

Not someone else’s dreams; YOUR dreams.

A yoga sequence to cultivate compassion from Chelsea Jackson Roberts

I found this lovely heart-opening yoga sequence several months ago while putting together a class on the Heart Chakra:

Heart sequence.png

Since then, I’ve incorporated it into just about every class I teach, and it’s become my go-to movement practice… so I figured it was about time I shared the love!

It’s quite accessible in that it is easy to practice anywhere, without a mat or specialized clothing. It’s also easily adjustable to fit any timeframe. I usually start with a version in which I hold each pose for two full breaths. Even if that’s all I have time for, my mindbodyheart feel so much better for it; even better if I have time to go through several rounds, timed with the breath.

I’m convinced that this sequence was exactly the loving kindness that I needed during a recent retreat that was very challenging, both physically and emotionally.

Thank you, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, for sharing your inclusive practices and experiences with us. They are truly gifts that keep on giving!