I think often about this poem and am inspired by its verses as I approach work, personal projects, relationships and friendships, and mentorships with kids. My business partner, Jane, found and brought it to my attention, and the title ("To be of use") serves as the mantra for our strategy consulting business.
"To be of Use"
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
~ Marge Piercy ~
(Sorry, I have not posted for several days due to my ride and head cold.)
Pilgrimage – noun
A journey, esp. a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion: a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
I spent this weekend with 75 people on the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage, touring four different Buddhist centers (and Buddhist traditions) over three different counties north of San Francisco. 134 miles later, I am happy to report that I made it -- despite a bad cold, 103 degree heat, leg cramps, hills, and running out of water. Thanks to the active support and encouragement of all the volunteers that supported us, including the organizers, SAG and pit stop staff, cooks, van drivers, monks, and my fellow riders. Like the AIDS Lifecycle rides, this is a community gathering. Most riders, including me, felt the pilgrimage was fun, beautiful, spiritual, challenging, and at times, very hard.
My distinct flavor of “hard” started the night before we left, when I realized that I coming down with a cold and needed a decongestant in order to breath comfortably and sleep. After 4-5 restless hours, I awoke at 4:30AM on Saturday morning but didn't know if I was well enough to ride. So I picked up two other participants (including my fun-meister friend, Phil, who was a volunteer), checked-in at the registration desk, and began cycling at 7:30. Despite feeling slightly feverish, I decided to participate, especially after the head monk gave our group a rousing dharma talk about working with the “grim” moments that would naturally arise over the next two days on the pilgrimage.
Off we went, and for the first 10 miles, I quickly found it tough going, coughing up a lot of phlegm as I charged up the hills in my typical “take San Juan”-style (as a cyclist, hills are my thing). This scared me at first because I started to realize that I might not make the whole ride. But gradually, mile after mile, my lungs stabilized and I found a good and strong cadence. I so loved the cool mist of the morning and beautiful west Marin setting that I rode the first 50 miles by myself, out in front of everyone. I just cranked out mile-after-mile, purging my cold symptoms and some emotions about recent business disappointments.
After lunch, I asked a group of the three fast riders if I could ride with them, in order to socialize more. What I didn’t know was that we were about to the leave the moderate climes of the Pacific coast for the scorching heat of Sonoma. I tried to stay with my fast riding friends, but after about 15 miles or so, I let two of them ride ahead while I struggled along with the heat. We did know this at the time, but we were riding faster than the organizers could set up the next rest stop, so my group got separated and lost. I ended somewhere on West Dry Creek road, alone, out of water, and suffering from combination of heat stroke and dehydration. I was in such bad condition that I stopped and asked two by-standers if they had any water and if they could dial my phone to call one of the ride organizers (yes, I was that dizzy). I was vulnerable and needed help despite that I am a big, strong cyclist. By seeing the expressions on their faces, these two women were very concerned about me, immediately going to a nearby farmhouse for a thermos of ice-cold water. With this and by sitting in the shade, it took me an hour to cool enough off to finish the last 10 miles of the ride.
Having been raised by a Marine Corp-trained dad, I was determined to finish the day’s ride, even if it meant walking my bike up the final, steep 3-mile-long hill. Through sheer grit and mindfulness, I made it, finally arrived at our campground and then relaxed. Despite staying in a cool swimming pool for an hour, my temperature stayed north of 100 degrees for 7 hours, and Phil worried that he might have to take to the hospital in the middle of the night. So he puts my hands and wrists in ice water and made me take some aspirin. Sometime after midnight, fortunately, my fever broke and I woke up feeling near normal and completed the ride with my small coterie of “yang” riders. While I focused on the challenges in this blog post, this weekend was mostly wonderful, with lots of interaction, quiet back roads, scenic vistas, good-hearted people, healthy food, and powerful meditations.
In hindsight, this pilgrimage is a lot like daily life, with highs and a few lows, and the ever-present opportunity to be present with “what is”, whether that be a raging fever, self-doubts, annoyance, judgments or even anger. I felt all these things during this two-day event, and was reminded of the importance of witnessing my self-dialogue, doing what is required in the moment, and relying on the strength and goodness of others. In the end, this pilgrimage brought me home, back to myself, with a softer heart and stronger legs, and into more connectedness with 74 other wonderful beings. I’ve learned that pilgrimage, like everyday life, is an act of devotion.
Participating in the annual Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage this weekend..."2 days, 137 miles, and 60,000 breaths", according to the organizers
"60,000 breaths"...that's Buddhist humor for you, not mine.
This ride goes from Spirit Rock Meditation center in Marin, to Sae Taw Win Dhamma Center in Graton, and finishes at Abhayagiri Monastery, north of Ukiah. It benefits these monasteries as well as the City of 10,000 Buddhas. This reminds me of attending the Superbowl of Rock in Chicago, in 1976, only this time with buddhists on bikes
I won't be blogging, tweeting or checking email, but feel free to send me good energy over the next two days because I will need your encouragement on the road. I will be back blogging on Monday. best, Joe
Proudparenting.com has attracted a wide following among LGBT parents and it includes blog entries by those who are/aspire to be birth parents, co-parents, foster parents, adopting parents and known donors. Also, there seems to be equal number of women and men on the site, which is more unusual in this age of micro-targeting, offering a broad perspective than norm. The editor of the site, Jeff, makes a number of posts each day, but anyone can make a blog post, too. I have done so 4-5 times in the last two months. Check them out for yourself.
I hate to date myself, but I can remember at time when the New York Times did not cover gay issues. This coming article is a big deal because it reaches some of the most influential Americans, and helps them understand that sexuality orientation is not something that is chosen; it is innate. Can you imagine consciously "choosing" to be gay in the 7th grade? (Only religious nuts believe that.) I waited many self-tortured years, till I was 21, to come out. But this sympathetic article shows the progress we have made as a movement and the challenges that remain. The truth is setting us free on the long march to full equality. Hats off to Benoit Denizet-Lewis and the New York Times, for this smart and sensitive article.
"Coming Out in Middle School"
By BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS
New York Times
Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.
When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”
Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”
Austin’s mom was on vacation in another state during my visit to Oklahoma, so a family friend drove him to the weekly youth dance at the Openarms Youth Project in Tulsa, which is housed in a white cement-block building next to a redbrick Baptist church on the east side of town. We arrived unfashionably on time, and Austin tried to park himself on a couch in a corner but was whisked away by Ben, a 16-year-old Openarms regular, who gave him an impromptu tour and introduced him to his mom, who works the concession area most weeks.
Openarms is practically overrun with supportive moms. While Austin and Ben were on the patio, a 14-year-old named Nick arrived with his mom. Nick came out to her when he was 12 but had yet to go on a date or even kiss a boy, which prompted his younger sister to opine that maybe he wasn’t actually gay. “She said, ‘Maybe you’re bisexual,’ ” Nick told me. “But I don’t have to have sex with a girl to know I’m not interested.”
Ninety minutes after we arrived, Openarms was packed with about 130 teenagers who had come from all corners of the state. Some danced to the Lady Gaga song “Poker Face,” others battled one another in pool or foosball and a handful of young couples held hands on the outdoor patio. In one corner, a short, perky eighth-grade girl kissed her ninth-grade girlfriend of one year. I asked them where they met. “In church,” they told me. Not far from them, a 14-year-old named Misti — who came out to classmates at her middle school when she was 12 and weathered anti-gay harassment and bullying, including having food thrown at her in the cafeteria — sat on a wooden bench and cuddled with a new girlfriend.
Austin had practically forgotten about his boyfriend. Instead, he was confessing to me — mostly by text message, though we were standing next to each other — his crush on Laddie, a 16-year-old who had just moved to Tulsa from a small town in Texas. Like Austin, Laddie was attending the dance for the first time, but he came off as much more comfortable in his skin and had a handful of admirers on the patio. Laddie told them that he came out in eighth grade and that the announcement sent shock waves through his Texas school.
“I definitely lost some friends,” he said, “but no one really made fun of me or called me names, probably because I was one of the most popular kids when I came out. I don’t think I would have come out if I wasn’t popular.”
“When I first realized I was gay,” Austin interjected, “I just assumed I would hide it and be miserable for the rest of my life. But then I said, ‘O.K., wait, I don’t want to hide this and be miserable my whole life.’ ”
I asked him how old he was when he made that decision.
“Eleven,” he said.
As the dance wound down and the boys waited for their rides home, I joined Tim Gillean, one of Openarms’s founders, in the D.J. booth, where he was preparing to play the Rihanna
For the full article
Because of the bad economy, business has been very slow and frustrating, despite all the effort that has gone into cultivating new clients. Despite that, through small and big ways, I am constantly reminded that I am fortunate to be working with one of the smartest and most trustworthy people I know, my business partner Jane. She and I own a boutique business strategy firm, and nearly everyday, we see each other, have lunch, and solve thorny strategic problems together. We know each other through and through, and can anticipate what each other is going to say or do in a given situation. Our partnership dates back nearly 20 years, when she was my first boss in San Francisco.
We are a good team because we have complimentary skills and share the values of hard work, perseverance, and integrity. We both hail from ambitious Catholic families who put a premium on character and achievement -- which, mostly, is a good thing. Our shared business ethos is best summarized by the Marge Piercy poem called "To be of Use."
Like me, Jane cares deeply about kids and, in addition to raising a wonderful daughter herself as a divorced and single mom, she has helped disadvantaged children by serving on the board of directors of several education organizations. I, too, have been active in volunteering with children, working with foster kids for a number of years and then, more recently, speaking to over 250 high school health education classes, over 10 years, about my life as a gay man. For nearly two decades, Jane and I have collaborated in volunteering for a large children's advocacy group, which she is the chairperson of.
We have been very supportive of each other, especially as it relates to the kids in our personal lives. I supported Jane when her daughter dropped out of Jane's alma mater and switched colleges. And she has provided me with wise counsel as I mentored Jason, especially when his moms went through a divorce and he was depressed and unhappy in high school. Nearly every day we share some tidbit about her latest phone call from her daughter or my news about Jason.
I am proud of Jane and the work we do for business clients, as well as helping children. We have our ups and downs, yet we clearly see and value one another in both good times and bad. She is a real gem, and makes me life better and more fun.
In the last two days I have had the opportunity to tell a close friend that he did something to hurt my feelings. And, in another close relationship, I had to apologize for something I did to undermine that person’s trust. How is that for yin and yang of relating?
Both of these acts required courage as well as vulnerability. Something, a teacher of mine, Joe Weston describes as the building blocks of “respectful confrontation,” a non-violent communication approach that he teaches, especially to gay men and lesbians. (In fact, he’s got upcoming workshop on respectful confrontation in October.) Joe believes there is a way to communicate your feelings, take responsibility for your part of the situation, and make request of another in a connected, respectful way.
These conflicts with my friends were not huge transgressions, but rather the usual messiness that comes from egos, lack of awareness, and miscommunication. Juicy, everyday stuff. I could have swept these two conflicts under the rug, but I decided I would miss out on the chance to be honest and vulnerable. From my experience, I know that honesty and vulnerability are at the heart of true intimacy, and intimacy is what satisfying relationships are all about.
I am very much a student, still practicing and building my respectful confrontation communication skills from day-to-day. Including making plenty of mistakes. But, this may be the greatest lesson I can teach a child: modeling courage, vulnerability, and intimacy, in my own imperfect way.
A few months ago I was introduced to this forum,made a few posts there, and have been generally impressed by the dialogue and supportive counsel. And check-out the companion forum, for same-sex households at TheNest.com.
About a year into being Jason's "big brother", when he was six, we were having lunch at his favorite restaurant, laughing, joking and carrying on with one another. Then without warning, sitting across from me, he placed his tennis shoes on top of mine and acted as if nothing had happened. And left them there for the next half an hour.
While I was surprised by this, in my very guy-way, I did not acknowledge it either. But I knew what it meant: Jase trusted me and wanted to show his heartfelt connection with me. After dropping him off at his moms', I drove home with tears running down my cheeks and a softer heart.
Last night, more than twelve years later, Jason called me from college, just two weeks into his freshman year. While having taken some personal time and space to establish himself at school, he now needed to talk and connect. He rattled off a long monologue about his new life in DC; but as he heard his roommate begin to unlock and about enter their dorm room, he quickly ended the call, by nonchalantly whispering "I love you" into the phone. With wet eyes, I smiled, and felt that same feeling once again.
This is just another reason why I want to mentor another child, this time as a known donor.
If we really stop to think about praise and criticism, we will see they do not have the least importance. Whether we receive praise or criticism is of no account. The only important thing is that we have a pure motivation, and let the law of cause and effect be our witness. If we are really honest, we can see that it makes no difference whether we receive praise and acclaim. The whole world might sing our praises, but if we have done something wrong, then we will still have to suffer the consequences for ourselves, and we cannot escape them. If we act only out of a pure motivation, all the beings of the three realms can criticize and rebuke us, but none of them will be able to cause us to suffer. According to the law of karma, each and every one of us must answer individually for our actions.
This is how we can put a stop to these kinds of thoughts altogether, by seeing how they are completely insubstantial, like dreams or magical illusions. When people praise us and we glow with delight, it is because we think that being praised is beneficial. But that is like thinking that there is some substance to a rainbow or a dream. However much benefit appears to accrue from praise and acclaim, actually there’s none at all.
—The Dalai Lama, from “Bad Reputation ,” Tricycle, Summer 2007
Maddow: Gay Marriage in Massachusetts leads to lower divorce rates...contrary to what the Religious Right had predicted
by Doree Shafrir
the Daily Beast
From embryo adoption to sperm washing, making a baby is easier—and more complicated—than ever.
Today's birth announcements come in all shapes and sizes. "Steve and Michael are Preggers!" "Sally, Maria, and Sebastian are Having Twins!" "It's an Adopted Frozen Embryo!"
We live in an age when the obsession with having a child has reached a fever pitch. Single men and women, and couples gay and straight, have more options than ever before—and they're taking advantage of every single one of them.
The $4 billion fertility industry has couples going to untold lengths to conceive, and has pushed pregnancy toward the realm of science fiction. People are adopting embryos that would have otherwise been used for stem-cell research, and HIV-infected sperm is being washed clean so it can fertilize an egg. (Whose egg? Maybe the 50-something single lesbian's.) There are sperm banks
Sperm banks are offering discounts to soldiers who want to store their sperm for their wives to impregnate themselves with in case they die overseas. And more and more often, close family members are acting as surrogates.
With the art of baby-making going from surrealist to abstract, The Daily Beast talked to couples (and singles) whose paths to parenthood were circuitous, but perhaps all the more touching for the length of the journey.
For more of the story
Then, later last night, I was at a party where I ran into a lesbian couple that I know, which has had two children via a known sperm donor, like I would like to do. When I told them about my desire to be a known donor, they were so enthusiastic and encouraging of me, saying that I would be the ideal donor and mentor and how much that their kids love being around me. Super.
All these comments have warmed my heart and provide me with a good dose of encouragement.
(Read this story and you will understand why I am pursuing becoming a known sperm donor. -- Joe)
By Katrina Clark
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The Washington Post
I really wasn't expecting anything the day, earlier this year, when I sent an e-mail to a man whose name I had found on the Internet. I was looking for my father, and in some ways this man fit the bill. But I never thought I'd hit pay dirt on my first try. Then I got a reply -- with a picture attached.
From my computer screen, my own face seemed to stare back at me. And just like that, after 17 years, the missing piece of the puzzle snapped into place.
The puzzle of who I am.
I'm 18, and for most of my life, I haven't known half my origins. I didn't know where my nose or jaw came from, or my interest in foreign cultures. I obviously got my teeth and my penchant for corny jokes from my mother, along with my feminist perspective. But a whole other part of me was a mystery.
That part came from my father. The only thing was, I had never met him, never heard any stories about him, never seen a picture of him. I didn't know his name. My mother never talked about him -- because she didn't have a clue who he was.
When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.
And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.
For more of the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/15/AR2006121501820_pf.html
There is a very good article, today.
by Leo Babauta.
Sometimes I lounge lazily in bed, in the middle of the day, with a couple of my kids and just abandon my worldly concerns, and just play.
Or I’ll sit and just watch them play, pretending they’re superheros or princesses or playing house or shooting each other with stick guns.
It never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to innocence and a simpler time.
As grown ups, we’ve lost this childlike sense of life. And that’s actually a sad thing.
It’s not just about happiness and innocence either — being more childlike also helps us to be more creative, more imaginative, more innovative and open to worlds of possibilities.
Consider: as children, we are naturally imaginative, curious, able to play without a worry in our minds. Some qualities of young children that happen naturally:
- they live in the present
- they have no concerns about money, productivity, or being cool
- there are no limits to their imagination, except what they’ve been exposed to
- they play and lose themselves in play
- they create with abandon
- they are endlessly curious, and ask questions … without end
- they love showing off to their parents
We lose this childlike nature, the nature we’re born with, because of society — it has certain institutions and systems in place that beat childishness out of us, so we can be more productive citizens and consumers. I think it’s unfortunate.
We shouldn’t abandon all responsibilities, but we can learn a lot from children and be more like them in some ways.
For more of the story: http://zenhabits.net/2009/09/how-to-be-childlike/
I just came across this article from a few years back, written by the Boston Globe. It is insightful.
By Sally Jacobs, Globe Staff | March 7, 2004
When Molly Heller had friends over to play as a child, she made a lot of preparations. And they didn't involve asking for Cokes or cookies.
First, she pulled the pink triangle magnet off the refrigerator. Then, all the lesbian-friendly books and record albums had to be hidden. She scoured the house to remove any love notes between her mother and her mother's girlfriend. Just for good measure, she told her mother not to wear her Birkenstock sandals, because, of course, everybody knew that lesbians wore those. As for the bathroom wallpaper festooned with women, she just sighed.
"You de-gay the house," said Heller, now 33. "I was absolutely paranoid about my friends finding out."
A lot has changed since Heller and her sister grew up in a small town in Connecticut in the 1980s, when they knew no other children who had gay or lesbian parents. Gay families with children have gone from a rarity to part of everyday life in many communities. Gay marriage, once a distant prospect, is an imminent legal reality, at least here.
I just got called by my friend's five-year-old nephew, in Spain, via Skype. It is 8PM there and he wanted me to sing to him "Old MacDonald had a farm," doing the animal sounds and all. I love how some things bridge diverse cultures and language. This bright kid is going to grow up to be a big bruiser and real heart breaker: his dad is 6'3" and mom is is 6', and he is as joyful and loving as can be. That's all I got to share today, with oink here, and oink there...
Yesterday, I spoke to a very nice woman over the phone, about being a known sperm donor for her. She was smart, grounded, and very clear. I am looking forward to meeting her in person. Taking to time to water the garden was a good thing.:)
From this process of putting myself out there as a known sperm donor, I have learned to be more patient as well as proactive. Each day, I do an item or two off of my project worksheet. At the end of the day, I check to my email to see if anyone has contacted me. And wait.
Hey, I think to myself, "Hey, I am ready. Why hasn't anyone contacted me?" Then I catch myself and smile, reminding myself that this isn't about me. That I am just here to help a prospective mother. That this is a process that takes time, like anything else, and requires a little creativity and perseverance. Like most things.
Time to water the garden.
Posted by Philip Ryan
Letting go of fixation is effectively a process of learning to be free, because every time we let go of something, we become free of it. Whatever we fixate upon limits us because fixation makes us dependent upon something other than ourselves. Each time we let go of something, we experience another level of freedom.
- Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, from Tricycle, Fall 2004
"The Hierarchy vs Civil Equality"
In Maine's Catholic churches this weekend, there will be a mandatory second collection to strip gay couples of equal rights in that state. It's always sad to see churches rally to deny human beings basic protections under the civil law.
Now that I am back from vacation, I got a lot of things to do for work and personal projects, including this one. I am also beginning to get a few emails of inquiry, too. I am feeling encouraged, open to new possibilities, and more expressed by writing this blog. All good things. Here's to Friday!
From yesterday's Daily Good website:
We have a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us.
There is a new worldwide movement developing, made up of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that movements are not organizations, institutions or systems. Movements have no CEO, central office, or plan. Instead, they happen when thousands and thousands of people discover together new possibilities for their lives. They have a calling. They are called. And together they call upon themselves. This beautiful article by John McKnight celebrates the power of what our institutions cannot do -- but that we can and must do together. http://www.dailygood.org/view.php?qid=3849
Be The Change:
Practice the three universal and abundant powers that Mcknight outlines as the heart of a movement: the giving of gifts, the power of association and hospitality.
About a month ago, I was advised by a leader in a gay parenting organization that I might find it difficult to connect with a lesbian or lesbian couple who was looking for a known donor, versus an anonymous one. He encouraged me to become very creative in my outreach efftorts at the same time as a good friend/ex of mine suggested that I write a blog to get my name out there. That is what I have done here, spending a few minutes everyday to write so an appropriate person or couple can find me. At first, it was hard to be so public about this personal dream; but over the last few weeks, my inhibitions in writing have been falling away and I have been using this time and space to talk about things that are close to my heart. What I value and what I am feeling. More like an online journal and workspace to explore issues related to family, being a donor, and life in general.
Some people have asked me why I am opting for this directed donor route rather than being a co-parent or having a kid on my own. With Jason, I was asked to play a more active co-parenting role because of the acrimonious dissolution of his moms' partnership eight years ago and his non-bio mom leaving California and abandoning him. So this time around, I want something more limited in scope, where I provide my genes and love for a lesbian-raised kid, but that's it. Where I act as an "uncle" as the discretion of the lesbian mom or couple. Where I might see the child 1-2 times a month, rather than every weekend that I did with Jason for 14 years.
Most importantly, I want to be there for a child and family as an "extra" support rather as a main source of it. And as person who has practiced Buddhism for over 10 years, I don't have a lot of control issues and value my autonomy and independence as I respect others'. Also, as a known donor, I would have no legal rights and responsibilities, providing a good and appropriate boundary for the family and me. I want a relationship where I can provide love and emotional support for a child, but only in the ways and in the timing that works for his or her moms as well as me. That's my intention and why I am writing this blog.
As much as I love Galician part of Spain, I am glad to be going home to my beloved San Francisco, a city that offers me as much freedom and opportunity as I can imagine. I can’t blame my problems or limitations on her because, at home, I am allowed to live as courageously as I dare, as big as my dreams are. This is an awesome responsibility, having to be accountable for how I live my life and, equally importantly, how I feel about it. This requires self-awareness guided by both truth and compassion, in equal measures.
After knowing Fonso for twelve months now, I am not sure what is going to come of this relationship, and maybe even more doubtful after I see more of his deep family life and friendships at home. However, some things are beyond our direct control and this relationship seems to be one of them. Time will tell. Before I left for this holiday, I asked of myself three things: 1. keep an open and warm heart, 2. to be present, and 3. to take care of myself, in body and mind. These goals turned out pretty well for me and I am feeling healed and whole.
Also, I was touched by all the stories that Fonso told me about Jason’s summer with him and at the restaurant. These stories reminded me of the time I spent in London when I was a junior in college, and how I was deeply changed by the people and circumstances I encountered so far away from mom and dad. My hunch is that Jason has not even begun to understand how working and living in Spain has changed him.
Lastly, I need to mention the wonderful way I saw Fonso and his siblings interacting with the family's kids, filling them up with love, attention and affection while delivering clear lessons on what is right and what is wrong. It seemed to be the right balance to me, providing a good, middle way that doesn’t veer off into either narcissism or materialism. Maybe that is the emotional inheritance of my grandfather and parents, which I have been able to pass on, in some measure, to Jason and other kids. I am not sure, but I am grateful to have spent this holiday with Fonso, in Galicia, and be on my way home.
Also, Fonso stopped on the way home to show me seven giant Sequoia trees thriving here in Galicia. They were planted by their eccentric owner over 70 years ago, and not surprising are shooting up in height, here in this land of black soil, strong sun and frequent rain. Everything grows wild here, all sorts of plants including ferns, palm and avocado trees. If you leave a lot of land untended and it will be covered up by a variety of plants and trees in three years. Things grow just like that. This is a land of dark forests, mountains, tumultuous seas, and witchcraft so I am not surprised by much that I find. I can see why Jason fell in love with it here during his three month apprenticeship.
Now off to the Darbo for drinking wine, eating chorizo, Celtic dancing, and talking with lots of Fonso's friends. I will be leaving this place, the land of my grandfather, Emilio Rodriguez, with its spirit even more burnt into my heart. My grandfather is even more with me, tonight and beyond.
I gave Xian a box of twelve Egyptian toy figures, including Queen Nefertiti, and he was spellbound by them, wanting to learn more. What fun. Xian is growing out of his baby face into a kid's one. It is great to witness this.
These gallegos know how to party. Last night, we went to some community festival called "Romeria de Dardo," which supposedly has some religious connotations to it which I did not see. More like a bacchanalia. We started the evening off at 11:30PM with empanadas, chorizo, tortillas (egg and potato) and bread. Then we started drinking a flaming punch out of ceramic cups, blowing out the fire when the level of alcohol was burned off to one's preferred level. And then Fonso's former colleagues from the Celtic dance troupe found us, and we started drinking sweet but powerful mojitios until the wee hours. That's when things got funny and a bit blurry. I don't drink much so I was "three sheets to the wind." I loved being silly with these gallegos, laughing with them and life. Even with my aching head this morning, it was all worth it.
While they fight and complain, they also have a tremendous love for one another. They enjoy the feeling of family and watching each other´s lives. Of course, they have brought husbands, kids, boyfriends and girlfriends into this family sphere, not to menton the other employees at the restaurant. Today, our afternoon lunch, at 4.30PM, included twelve people, was served at a big communal table and punctuated with laughter, spirited exchanges about politics, and a contented burp or two. Being here makes me miss my family and wish that we lived in closer proximity to one another. I am really fortunate in having a close-knit family -- it was the luck of the draw. Sure, they annoy me at times, but my life is better for them. Fonso´s is too.
I am getting caught up on the news from the US, and the machinations of the right-wing cabal that drags down our politics and policies. All I can say is that "traditionalists" are always fearful of change: the advent of fire, democracy, the automobile, civil rights, and now national health care. I am not being patronizing. They can´t help it, it is the way their brains function. Change is simply scary to them.
But America can´t be held hostage to fear. Progressive forces must acknowledge the fears of our challenged brothers and sisters AND keep moving ahead and making society a better and more just place. In the end, love reigns supreme because that´s who we really are. And Obama knows that.
I admire these people, who tend to waltz in the streets during holidays, lavish love and attention on their kids, eat chorizo and octopus and drink white wine with joy and moderation, and work hard. Last night, after what had been busy night at the restaurant, we sat outside with Fonso´s friends and compared life here and in California. A couple of observations: while you can legislate gay marriage, it takes a long time for society to accept such things. There is a big divide in this society between those who were born before Franco and after Franco, with the later group, in attitude and worldview, being like European counterparts in Stockholm or Dublin. What impresses me about younger Spaniards is their insistence on change and adopting the best aspects of European society. They feel that the Catholic Church ruled and abused the people during Franco's time, and have been discredited as a legitimate political force. And my friends predict that in the next 10 years, there will be a full accounting for the right-wing attrocities of the Franco era, as this democracy settles into middle age. A national reconcilliation would be a good thing for this country that still hesitates to discuss the recent past.
With the coming of the Euro here, prices have risen on most things and last night we walked through a large youth gathering (16-25) on the wharf, where people were hanging out and avoiding the high prices of bars and clubs -- just drinking beer and rum, listening to music and playing pranks on each other. While some were tipsy, it was not like similar scenes in the UK where there is more dangerous atmosphere of drunk and fighting gangs. Last night, people were content...enjoying the temperate weather and moonlight, the company of good friends, and the taste of the local beer, Estrella Galicia. All at 4AM. This American included.
After eating some fine Spanish seafood, I went to sleep for 15 hours, waking up just in a time for a sumptuous lunch, followed by the rest of the day at the beach. And what a relaxed afternoon, with a mild wind, clear skies, and 75 degree weather. I am in heaven, and feeling like myself again.
A few moments ago, I arrived in Spain, a little sleepy, jet-lagged and still getting used to my Spanish keyboard. It was an uneventful journey but the last 15 minutes were beautiful, as our small plane dropped out of the clouds, skimming the verdant Galician mountains that opened up to the rias and a large natural harbor, home to Vigo.
There is a bit of humidity in the air, the temperature is in the 70s, and it is good to be back in the old country. With my gallego!
"What love is" By Ayya Khema
Born in Berlin of Jewish parents in 1923, Ayya Khema escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 with a transport of 200 children to Glasgow. She joined her parents two years later in Shanghai, where, with the outbreak of war, the family was put into a Japanese POW camp, in which her father died. Four years after her camp was liberated, Ayya Khema emigrated to the United States, where she married and had two children. While traveling in Asia from 1960 to 1964, she learned meditation and in 1975, began to teach. Three years later she established Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition near Sydney, Australia. In 1979 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She is currently the spiritual director of BuddhaHaus in Oy-Mittleberg, Germany, which she established. She has written numerous books in English and German, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere (Wisdom Publications) and When the Iron Eagle Flies (Penguin Books).
MOST PEOPLE are under the impression that they can think out their lives. But that's a misconception. We are subject to our emotions and think in ways based on our emotions. So it's extremely important to do something about our emotions. In the same way as the Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, he also outlined the Four Emotions for the heart. The Four Supreme Efforts for the mind are (1) not to let an unwholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (2) not to let an unwholesome thought continue which has already arisen, (3) to make a wholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (4) to make a wholesome thought continue which has already arisen. The Four Emotions--lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy with others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)--are called the "divine abodes." When we have perfected these four, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart.
I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abidings, or Supreme Emotions, enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality. When we are able to arouse love in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart's quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. Insurance companies have the largest buildings because people try to buy security. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people's happiness. Many fears will vanish.
Metta--the first of the Supreme Emotions--is usually translated as "loving kindness." But loving-kindness doesn't have the same impact in English that the word love has, which carries a lot of meaning for us. We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other-none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn't work that way. Most people then think it's their own fault or the other person's fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That's usually what's called love in our society.
In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don't have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are cither waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts-in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love.
If we see quite clearly that love is a quality that we all have, then we can start developing that ability. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we've learned to type, we've had to practice. We can practice love and eventually we'll have that skill. Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we're not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love. Because we know our own faults, when somebody loves us we think, Oh, that's great, this person loves me and doesn't even know I have all these problems. We're looking for somebody to love us to support a certain image of ourselves. If we can't find anybody, we feel bereft. People even get depressed or search for escape routes. These are wrong ways of going at it.
IN THE spiritual path, there's nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. Obviously, the first thing to let go of is trying to "get" love, and instead to give it. That's the secret of the spiritual ..... path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back. By not wanting for ourselves. If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth. Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don't act the way we'd like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it's easier to love others, which is why we always start loving-kindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That's not egocentricity. If we don't like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don't even have the qualifications. It's also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn't pay, and just makes people unhappy.
PEOPLE OFTEN feel that it's necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, thoughts, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. If we practice meditation diligently with perseverance, then one day we'll get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What can we be afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves. Knowing that we do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn't stop loving them when they act silly or unpleasant. Small children have hundreds of unwholesome thoughts a day and give voice to them quite loudly. We have them too, but we do not express them all.
So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, why can't we love ourselves? Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn't matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can actually love ourselves, there is a feeling of being at ease. We don't constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It's nice to just be, and not be "somebody." Love makes that possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them. We all have daily opportunities to practice this. It's a skill, like any other.
Image: Seated Buddha, India, Gandhara, 3rd or 4th century. Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery
I will be staying in the port city of Vigo, co-incidently, the last place in Spain that my grandfather, Emilio, saw as his ship left from there. Sometimes, I can almost feel my grandfather's spirit, pushing me to strengthen my ties with his region. Like today, as I pack and get ready to leave. By the way, Santa Maria is the small hamlet, near the border with Portugal, where Emilio was born. I mean small: maybe 20 people in total and thrice as many goats, sheep and cows.
I can't wait to eat the delicacies of this seafaring region: octopus, caldo galego, empanadas, chorizo, and paella. And to be surrounded by people who physically look more like my family and me. And are temperamentally similar, too: proud, stubborn, political, tough, superstitious, hard-working, frugal, and family-oriented. This is where my "little brother," Jason, spent this summer, working for Fonso at his family's seafood restaurant. And it will now be my vacation spot.
I am not sure if I will have time for this blog during this break. Life will tell. Now off to the old country for some much needed R&R.
Monday 31 August 2009 15.51 BST
From the guardian.co.uk:
Lesbian couples having children through fertility treatment granted same birth certificate rights as heterosexual couples. Lesbian couples who have children through fertility treatment can now register both their names on the birth certificate, following a change in the law.
The change, which applies to couples in England and Wales beginning fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009, confers legal parenthood on a biological mother's female partner for the first time.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 granted lesbian couples equal rights as parents. The new regulations on the registration of births and deaths came into force today, although no child covered by the change will have been born yet.
Lord Brett, the Home Office minister, said: "This positive change means that, for the first time, female couples who have a child using fertility treatment have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts to be shown as parents in the birth registration. It is vital that we afford equality wherever we can in society, especially as family circumstances continue to change. This is an important step forward in that process."
The Home Office said birth certificates would be made available with two "parent" sections, rather than mother and father.
Ruth Hunt, the head of policy and research of the lesbian, gay and bisexual group Stonewall, said life for lesbian families would become fairer and easier.
"As the law improves to provide further equality, knowing your new rights will help people make full use of the services they're entitled to," she said. "And, if discrimination occurs, the same knowledge can help them demand fair treatment. Now lesbian couples in the UK who make a considered decision to start a loving family will finally be afforded equal access to services they help fund as taxpayers."
Critics said the change in the law was a blow against the traditional family model.
"If we want to build a stable society, a mother and father and children works as the best model," the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries told the BBC. "We should be striving towards repairing and reinforcing marriage. I think this move sends out the exact opposite message."
Geraldine Smith, a Labour MP, agreed: "To have a birth certificate with two mothers and no father is just madness."
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said 728 lesbians underwent IVF treatment between 1999 and 2006.
I have a Zen meditation practice which grounds and centers me. Here is an interesting outtake from Tricycle (Buddhist) magazine.
ZEN AND PSYCHOLOGY
Many Zen Students and even a few teachers think Zen is a kind of psychology. This is a little like thinking that persimmons are a type of banana. The Zen master is more like a flea than he or she is like a psychologist. More like a cool breeze. More like a mountain peak. I am not exaggerating or being fanciful.
Some People think of Zen practice as a kind of therapy. That’s not completely mistaken, of course. Yamada Koun Roshi used to say that the practice of Zen is to forget the self in the act of uniting with something—Mu, or breath counting, or the song of a thrush. That is wonderful therapy. Concern about me and mine disappears.
COPING WITH ONE’S MISTAKES
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said, “Being a Zen master means coping with one’s mistakes.” Indeed, and it’s a pretty lonely position. If you confess to your errors, some of the good students will go away. If you don’t, you yourself will go away. I don’t wonder at the alcoholism found occasionally in sacred halls. ▼
From Miniatures of a Zen Master, © 2008 by Robert Aitken. Reprinted with permission from Counterpoint.