Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fortune telling

Under the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, April, 2008

A new year is coming, and a new president. A good time to put forth some ‘predictions.’ While I don’t think that Obama is an infallible messiah (his choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration is an affront to me as a gay person, and I would hope to all who believe in civil rights), I do believe that he possesses a great degree of intelligence and equanimity -- qualities that have been sorely absent in American politics and leadership.

So with this new year and new leadership, I see (and hope for) a few things on the horizon. Here’s my list, my most optimistic scenario: 3 trends that I think will be related to Obama’s administration, and 2 that I see arising from the grassroots (literally), science, and, well, spirit.

1. Shift from a militaristic mindset to reaffirming the value of civil society
The kind of mentality that created the ‘global war on terror’ has got to go. What a relief to soon be free of Bush's bluster and stuffed pants. Obama has the good sense to value relationships and dialogue before bombing, so I believe we’ll begin to see a fundamental shift in how the U.S. expresses its power in the world. I hope this translates into closing down Guantanamo, and in bringing renewed diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians (the news lately from that part of the world is heartbreaking).

Shifts are possible… think of Northern Ireland 20 years ago and today. (I wrote about this when I was at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in a piece called “Laying Down Arms.”)

2. The rise of alternative energy
No surprise here. Even though oil prices have dropped, we are running out of fossil fuels. In Obama, we have a president who has a long vision of energy use and who I think will be supportive of efforts to develop sources such as wind, solar, and thermal. I’m going to try to find some room in my budget to invest and am checking into New Alternatives Fund – it’s a mutual fund that invests in energy companies that have a positive impact on the environment.

3. Sharing the wealth
Obama may have let his inner socialist slip when he said this to Joe the Plumber, but after decades of unfettered capitalism maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The result has been a growing gap between rich and poor; in Obama’s own words, “rising corporate profits but flat-lining or even declining wages and incomes for the average family." United for a Fair Economy is a great organization from which to get more research on this phenomenon and ideas on how to change it.

With Obama’s administration, look for a shift in the tax code to begin to address this huge disparity and close the gap. A NYT mag article called “Obamanomics” gives some interesting insights on Obama’s philosophy on economics and taxes.

4. The return of the vegetable garden
Sounds simple, but this will be a huge step toward sustainability on all levels. I really can’t say it any better than Michael Pollan did in his excellent article this year called “Why Bother.” I summed it up in another blog entry, but here’s the gist of it:

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

…You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon.

I think we’ll see gardens popping up everywhere. There’s even a movement for the Obama’s to start an organic victory garden at the White House. May it be so!

5. Increasing recognition that ‘spiritual technologies’ like meditation are fundamental to effective and lasting personal, interpersonal, and social change.
We are living in the VUCA era (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambigious), as a number of people have called it. In such times, we need to learn how work with our mind to recognize our cognitive patterns and biases and to be able to shift them, and meditation and mindfulness practice are very effective ways of doing this. My own work has exposed me to lots of solid research that provides evidence to back up this claim. The work of Dr. Richie Davidson at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and many others is contributing to this body of knowledge.

But this isn’t limited to the individual. These practices also shift how we interact with each other (see Dan Goleman’s Social Intelligence, listen to Dan Siegel on the "neurobiology of we"), and how social movements function. Some of the most effective change movements in history have been based in spiritual practices – there’s a great DVD series called A Force More Powerful, in which you can view two case studies on Gandhi’s Salt March and the Montgomery lunch counter sit-in to learn more.

We certainly do live in interesting times. What are your predictions? What are your hopes for 2009?

Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


"Hope" has come up a lot this year, through Obama's successful presidential campaign but also through the realization that we live in times when hope is a necessary quality to get us through what some have called "The Long Emergency" -- this time when so many environmental, economic, and political realities are colliding.

I am suspicious of hope when it comes in its 'lite' form. But true, deep hope is a real gift. This holiday season I'd like to share with you my take on hope and reasons for it, expanding from my little life out into the big world that we all share.

* The hope that comes from sharing our truth and staying connected/interconnected. This year, I discovered the world of blogging and started my own blog-- you're readin' it now! I love the way it gives me a place to express myself in words and pictures, and to stay in touch with old friends and make new ones. Please become a "Kindred Spirit" (see the sidebar on the right top of the page).

* The hope that comes through change and movement. After years of imagining this possibility, I shifted my life from California to New Mexico this year. My intention in doing so was to live on a smaller, simpler scale and yet to still be in a place of awe-inducing beauty. Now I live in Santa Fe, where each morning I am greeted by mountains, chamisa, pinion, and mapgies. There are many times when I miss my dear friends in California and the Pacific ocean, but it feels right to be here in the high desert for now. Many of you have made big transitions in your lives as well, and this inspires me greatly. And if you find yourself traveling in or through NM this next year, let me know -- I love visitors!

* The hope that comes from deepening commitment. This November, after years of procrastination, I finally received jukai (Buddhist precepts) at San Francisco Zen Center. A lot of energy gets freed up by committing to something. I'm still in the process of understanding what that means in the context of meditation and Buddhist practice (and probably will for my whole life), and I wonder how this translates for each of you in your lives.

* The hope that arises from witnessing good people doing good things in the world. I am blessed to be involved with Upaya Zen Center's Chaplaincy Program, where I watch people going into sites of suffering like hospices, prisons, and even the federal government and offering the gift of presence and insight. And there are so many other venues where this is happening. Such a simple thing, yet what a profound impact this can make.

* The hope that is inspired by noticing that more people are getting involved in their world. This was most evident in Obama's win in the presidential election -- thank goddess! -- but I can see it happening in other places too. Maybe that's the upside of things having gotten so bad the last 8 years. It becomes more clear that we are the ones we are waiting for, to quote Alice Walker. Last week I saw the movie "Milk" -- highly recommended -- and this was another reminder of how great change begins with one person, one neighborhood, one relationship at a time.

May you and your loved ones enjoy a holiday season full of love, warmth, and peaceful times, and may we find places of resilient hope throughout the coming year.

with love,

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
-- Arundhati Roy


Sedona, AZ, July 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Abiquiu, NM, Jan 2008

Solstice Day

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, I often go into hibernation mode. Sometimes that means that I have no desire to use words, in any form… I get quieter (more so than usual), I don’t feel like writing… perhaps I’m gearing down to my reptilian brain where all that is required is to simply “be,” not to think too much, not to analyze.

(This reminds me that my favorite read of the last couple of years is “A General Theory of Love,” a magical book which combines poetry and science to explore how the biology of our brain plays a powerful role in the mysteries of love and connection.)

For a while I’ll just post some images I like, at least until the words come back again.

Happy Solstice, everyone!

Buddha Snow Cone, Santa Fe (Dec 2008)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Dawa (Upaya resident) shoveling away!

Farolito House (Upaya)

As promised, some snow photos from Santa Fe. It's 'balmy' today at about 40 degrees, but more snow expected tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My donkey!

Oh yeah, and I forgot to add one more important thing to my catching-up list -- I now own a donkey!!! Well, more to the point, someone owns a donkey in my name. Thanks to my friend Ellen, Oxfam has supplied a donkey in my name to someone who can really use it. As it says on the Oxfam site: "Your gift of a donkey to a family is invaluable. The usefulness of these affectionate but stubborn creatures cannot be overestimated. They can carry heavy loads over long distances, transport people with limited mobility, and fetch firewood. Talk about an ass-et!"

This is a way cool gift idea... to find out more about giving a donkey (or a goat, or school supplies, or many many other useful things) to a family/community in need, see Oxfam's website.

At Long Last

Celebrating with friends after Jukai Ceremony, Nov 15, San Francisco
Left to right: Sue Moon, Kristi Markey, Gina Horrocks, moi, Diana Winston,
Victoria Shosan Austin, Maryann Hrichak, Ellen Peskin, Anchalee Kurtach.

This has been a sabbatical from the sabbatical! It’s been a busy time, so much so that I may need to re-name this blog and this phase of my life, as ‘sabbatical’ no longer seems to fit. What’s been going on in these nearly four months since the last post?
  • I’ve continued to live at Upaya Zen Center here in Santa Fe, keeping most of the schedule with the other residents (up at 6:30 am, sit zazen until breakfast at 8, work during the day, end the day with zazen at 5:30 pm).
  • I’ve continued to coordinate Upaya’s Chaplaincy Training Program.
  • I completed a hefty research paper for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Military Care Providers Project.
  • I finally, finally, FINALLY (did I say finally?) completed sewing my rakusu and received jukai (lay ordination as Zen Buddhist) at San Francisco Zen Center in November. Check out the photo above.
  • Spent a couple of wonderful weeks by the ocean in Monterey, sewing the aforementioned rakusu, catching up with my friend Kristi, and getting the remainder of my stuff out of storage in San Francisco.
  • Took a road trip with Gina from California back to New Mexico, where me and all my stuff now live.
There’s a sense of completion and resolution settling in… at least some of the big questions that I sketched out at the start of this blog seem to be answering themselves bit by bit.

And now it’s definitely winter here in Santa Fe – several inches of fresh snow on the ground this morning. It’s beautiful, the contrast of the white snow and the warm brown adobe. The batteries in my camera need re-charging but as soon as it’s ready I’ll take and post some photos here, because you really can’t miss Santa Fe in the snow – it’s exquisite.

I have missed blogging and staying in touch with you, dear friends and readers, so I am making an intention to resume this practice more consistently. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Art of Manifestation

Ganesha, the patron saint of manifestation

Recently I've been thinking about manifestation -- the process of bringing into reality that which we envision. How is it that sometimes manifestation seems to happen so magically and easily, and other times we have to struggle with every ounce of our might to birth something into the world?

One writer that I appreciate on this topic is David Spangler. He makes a big distinction between manifestation and its shallow twin, "The Law of Attraction," as made famous in the vapid movie "The Secret." (Okay, I admit I haven't seen the movie, but I saw the preview, and it was vapid.)

The Law of Attraction tends to be a self-centered exercise in getting what we want, like lots of money, or a beach home, or the perfect lover.

In contrast, Spangler writes, "Manifestation… can be an opportunity, no matter how trivial the desire, to explore connections, patterns, alignments, and the flow of both material and spiritual energy through your life. When you make manifestation a spiritual practice, then the perspectives it brings overflow into other aspects of your life. You begin naturally seeing yourself and your world in terms of interconnected and co-incarnational [mutually evocative and co-creative] patterns. The reality of the community in which we all live becomes more apparent. The vision of your incarnation becomes broader, more ecological, more compassionate."

The way I understand this best translates as a question: What kind of environment/people/work do I need in my life in order for me to offer my greatest gifts to the world? To be my largest self?

I've been playing around with what this might look like. People love lists, so this comes in the form of a four-step list (kind of looks like a recipe!).

Maia’s 4 Steps for Manifestation

1) Go through a process of inquiry.
Journal on these questions, in relation to whatever your manifestation project is:
  • What is truly important to me in my life? What do I value?
  • What kind of change do I want to see in the world?
  • How can I contribute to this change? What are my unique gifts that I can contribute to this change
  • What kind of [work, home environment, partner, etc.] do I need to support me to offer this gift to the world?
  • How do I want to feel when I am [in my home, with my partner, working…etc]?
Be very descriptive and specific in answering these questions. Use lots of adjectives.

2) Brainstorm concrete steps that I can take to do my part in this manifestation process.
Ask yourself: What can I do to create the conditions for this alchemy to take place? (e.g. put out the word to friends that I am looking for a certain kind of job, home, etc., take classes to develop my skills) Manifestation is not a passive process... it requires good effort. (Although there is a receptive quality to it, which leads to the next step...)

3) Wait, and be receptive to grace and surprise and the generosity of the universe.
You never know how long this will take. The timing is not in our hands. A ritual to Ganesha always helps.

4) Final step: Gratitude!
When the manifestation is successful, don’t forget to express thanks and gratitude. This is critical… the energy field responds to it, and responds to lack of it. It’s possible to undo a wonderful manifestation by neglecting this step, so be mindful!

Another of my favorite writers, astrologer Rob Breszney, sums it up well:

"You can have anything you want if you'll just ask for it in an unselfish way. The trick to making this work is to locate where your deepest ambition coincides with the greatest gift you have to give. Figure out exactly how the universe, by providing you with abundance, can improve the lot of everyone whose life you touch. Seek the fulfillment of your fondest desires in such a way that you become a fount of blessings.”

I'm curious about your thoughts on and experiences with manifestation...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Maia's FAQs, updated!

Back in June I posted this set of questions and answers... here's the latest 411 on my life.

Where do you live now?
At the moment, I am living in at Upaya Zen Center, on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I actually do have a plan (!) to be here until the end of September. Then my tentative plan is to spend October in Sedona, AZ, with Gina where she'll be immersed in a five-month massage therapy training program. That's as far as I've got planned!

What are you doing for work?
Well, I like to think that I'm still on sabbatical, but the truth is I have been fairly busy. But it feels good.

For several days a week, I coordinate Upaya's Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. This means that I answer email and phone inquiries about the program, I mentor some of the students in the program, and help to envision the future of the training, both programmatically and administratively, with Roshi Joan Halifax.

In addition to that, I sometimes take on freelance projects. The most recent has been for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, for whom I edited a research paper on the use of meditation in higher education.

My Five Directions Consulting firm is how I connect with people and organizations that I want to support. See my business website:

What's next?
While I'm leaving things pretty open for the future, I do have one North Star that I am rowing towards. Seven years after declaring my intention to do so, I am finally sewing my rakusu and will receive jukai (initiation as a Buddhist) at San Francisco Zen Center on November 15. So I know I'll be back in the Bay Area then, at least for a little while.

I'm feeling a pull towards spending the rest of winter in northern New Mexico. The quality of light here continues to stun me with its beauty, and there is something magical about the high desert in the deep winter time.

Do you have more questions for me? Just ask!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Postcards from the Edge

Okay, well maybe I have fallen off the edge of the world. Gina and I have landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and are in the midst of a month-long Ango (Buddhist retreat, literally means "peaceful dwelling") at Upaya Zen Center.

I am half in and half out of the Ango, which is why I'm still able to go online. If I were doing it hardcore, like Gina and everybody else here, the computer and phone would be off limits. It's a good way to clear the mind and heart, and I'm getting a contact high just being around the folks who are doing the whole program.

Meanwhile, some photos from our road trip that took us from Monterey to Santa Fe:

Big 'ol elephant seals, just north of Hearst Castle

Gina in front of her pool (well, it really belonged to William Hearst)

The road-trippers near Jerome, Arizona

Goodbye Pacific Ocean, hello Southwest (Sedona, AZ)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 28

I haven't dropped off the edge of the world... just taking some time to relax and regroup before yet more travels. After a bit more than a week in Monterey/Northern California, Gina and I are headed toward New Mexico.

Will post more soon...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Rhythm of the Day

I love it that people are responding to the shortest posting here – What’s the most important thing? A good lesson for a blogger: short is sweet.

My time here in Medanales is almost up…tomorrow I hit the road again.

And just when I was starting to find my rhythm here in each day. That’s been one of the tougher parts about sabbatical time… dealing with lack of structure.

Other freelancers I know tipped me off to finding a rhythm and ritual to each day as a way to deal with this. Mine now goes something like this –
• wake up with the sun
• meditate for about half an hour
• go to the front yard and turn on the water for the plants (and usually get an enthusiastic greeting from Lola the dog)
• come back in and feed the cats (Seti and Maggie)
• make breakfast (often oatmeal with yogurt and flaxseed oil)
• turn on the computer and check news and email
• start on one of my projects… chaplaincy coordination for Upaya Zen Center, or editing for Center for Contemplative Mind
• mid way through the day, lunch
• afternoon sometimes gets peppered with a walk out at Ghost Ranch or Plaza Blanca… amazing rock formations in both places
• pulling weeds in the garden
• making dinner (tonight it's tilapia broiled in ginger, butter, and lemon; lettuce from the garden; and rice)
• chocolate (always a good way to end the day)

and there’s a whole lot of email checkin’ going on in between all those times. Me and my information addiction.

Anyway, that’s the way I like to think it goes. The reality is sometimes I just stare off into space and think, ‘this is summer! I can just be lazy!’

So tomorrow: Plane to Burbank, then Thursday train to San Luis Obispo, then car to Monterey/Santa Cruz. I don’t know how long I will be in California, but I do plan to be back in New Mexico in early August.

More soon… and happy travels to all of you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tassajara wrap-up...yet fire continues

Smoke in the mountains surrounding Tassajara (photo by Shundo David Haye)

If you've been reading this blog, you've gotten my personal story of the Basin Complex fire that's been raging in central California these past two weeks. My partner Gina, who spent those two weeks with a skeleton crew at Tassajara Zen Center helping to clear brush and prepare the area for fire, made it out safely on Monday.

This past Thursday, the fire raged through Tassajara. Thankfully, the five people who chose to stay behind to fight the fire are also safe, though trapped there because the road into Tassajara is now impassable. There was some damage, but because of everyone's efforts on Thursday and in the weeks before, most of the monastery was saved. David Zimmerman, Tassajara's director, wrote a very descriptive and harrowing narrative of the fire's visit.

Bodhisattva Alert: The fire has been devastating to San Francisco Zen Center, which is comprised of Tassajara, City Center, and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. The Center relies heavily on revenue from the guest season at Tassajara to support all the activities and the many priests and Zen students connected with it. If you want to find out how to give 'em a hand to continue their good work, read this letter from SFZC president Robert Thomas.

And the Basin Complex fire continues to burn on and to threaten other parts of the beautiful Ventana Wilderness and the Los Padres National Forest, as well as communities in Cachagua, Jamesburg, and possibly Carmel Valley. To date, this fire has burned through more than 117,000 acres and is only 60% contained.

What's the most important thing?

Rainbow, Espanola, New Mexico

What IS the most important thing?

You tell me.

Easy access to comment button below : )

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Okay, Gina is out of Tassajara and safely staying in Santa Cruz for the time being... I feel very grateful and relieved. There are still a number of people still at Tassajara... I continue to pray for their well being in this high risk situation.

It's a warm day in Medanales, after a night of soft, gentle rain. The garden looks incredibly happy this morning. To celebrate the rain and Gina's safety, here's a photo of the horses that live on this beautiful piece of land.

More soon...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tassajara: July 5 update

I am sitting here eating fudge mint cookies (all natural, of course) and feeling very relieved. I spoke with Gina a while ago and she has decided it's time to come out of Tassajara. She has already done so much...nearly two weeks of intensive physical labor to prepare the monastery for fire, should it arrive. There are still about 20 people down in there; they can't rely on fire crews for support anymore as a fire burning near Santa Barbara has taken first priority on the state fire list.

So here's your prayer assignment:
1) For Gina to get a ride out of Tassajara quickly
2) For the road to be clear so she can get through to Jamesburg, on the other side
3) For the safety of the remaining folks who are choosing to stay through, no matter what happens.

The current status, according to the Sitting With Fire blog, is that things are in a kind of holding zone... the fire is still very close, probably just about a mile and a half, but relatively cool temperatures have kept it in check. Temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days. Sounds like what they are encountering is not a raging wall of flame but rather scattered pockets of fire here and there. So best case scenario is that these fires will either by-pass or cause minimal damage to Tassajara, since it is thoroughly watered down now with a sprinkler system. But this is a fire, a powerful element, and is very much subject to what the weather does. And even the best case scenarios don't project the Basin Complex fire ending anytime soon... possibly not even until the late fall/winter rains comes.

If all goes well, Gina will be in a safer zone soon, I'll feel much more at ease, and this blog can go back to sabbatical type content... what's that saying? "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Of the people, by the people, and for the people

Well, I really hadn't planned on writing about public land management on this blog... but with the fire crisis going on in my home state of California and my loved ones being directly affected, I am getting more interested in the conditions that led up to this.

This post from Tom Hopkins, a board member of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, is more evidence of what I wrote in yesterday's entry -- the Basin Complex fire is a natural disaster, but one that is exacerbated by a political climate that has been steadily moving toward de-funding essential government services and privatizing as much as it can in the name of corporate profit. An excerpt (when Tom talks about "fuel loads," I understand that to mean the combustible material in a forest including trees, brush, etc.):

The catastrophic fire regime on the western public lands in recent years is, to a great extent, the result of a hundred years of very successful fire suppression and the resultant increase in fuel loads. The environmental community AND the public land management agencies now understand and agree on this fact. But getting our public lands back to a natural wildland fire regime, while providing protection for the exponential growth of private housing in the urban/wildland interface, is going to take a long time. And it is not going to happen if the politicians in DC place foreign interventionism, lower taxes for the wealthy and reducing the size of the federal government ahead of adequately funding public land management. Crisis management is not management...

If we want our federal public lands to be environmentally healthy, including their natural fire regime, AND have private property in the urban/wildlife interface reasonably protected from natural wildfire, it is going to take a lot more money than is currently being allocated. That means changing the status quo in DC by electing leaders who will adequately fund our public land management agencies so they can fully implement their missions.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why bother?

Stinson Beach, March 2008

So after that fairly distressing post about Tassajara, I feel compelled to offer an antidote.

Over the past few months, one of the articles I’ve found most inspiring is one by Michael Pollan titled “Why Bother?” published in the NY Times on Earth Day. You can read the full article here. It’s lengthy, and doesn’t fit into soundbites easily, but if you are looking for something juicy to engage your mind and heart, I highly recommend it. Michael starts by naming the obvious, the state of despair that more and more of us may find ourselves in:

Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it's not an easy one to answer. I don't know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in "An Inconvenient Truth" came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That's when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

Pollan continues to flesh this out:

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.

Then he stops the despair train in its tracks:

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

And goes into an elegant exposition about how most approaches to problem solving in the modern age have created yet more problems, and about the power of returning to basic, sustainable practices. I appreciate the diverse sources that Pollan references to make these points… from Wendell Berry to Vaclav Havel. Then he brings it all home:

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself--that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need…

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen....

And there's more. It's a great piece of writing, really. When you've got some time, read it and let it nourish your heart, soul, and mind. We need that nourishment so much in these times.

How would you respond if someone asked you, "Why bother?"

Things are getting worse

The fire continues. This morning I spoke to Gina on the phone and told her to get out of there. This fire is out of control – more than 60,000 acres burned and no containment in sight. There is only one road out of Tassajara – a 14-mile dirt mountain road that takes a good hour to get through. I hope she and all the others who have spent the last week and a half down in that canyon preparing for the fire can get out safely while there is still time.

I have been so focused on the personal aspect of this fire because my loved one is in there. But if you know me, you know that I look to see how the personal and the political are intimately linked… and they always are, as in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that I wrote about a few years ago in an article in Common Ground magazine. We are seeing the consequences of a state budget and a safety infrastructure that has been gutted. This would be a huge fire to deal with in any circumstance, but the lack of resources available to firefighters is making this one a true hell realm.

These powerful words come from Susie Bright, who lives in the Big Sur area. You can read the whole entry here on Susie's blog.

The air is orange and choking gray with smoke, the heat like an iron. In my neighborhood, 20 miles from from the nearest burn, there've been swarms of winged insects crowding the windows and doorways. You can drive past smoldering ruins and still-flaming burns down Highway 1...

There's an extra edge to the smoke, that goes beyond the inevitable natural crises: Our country has, for some time, been unable to provide the infrastructure to deal with disasters.

I'm not just talking about for the hermit who's off the grid. Everyone in California is mindful of the terrible floods in the Mid-West, and that leads to the all-too-obvious reminders of Katrina. A bridge collapses in Minnesota, and everyone knows that bridge should have been repaired or replaced ages ago. I'm sure all of you could tell me about something in your area that is a public hazard, overdue for repair, a "disaster waiting to happen," and yet nothing happens 'cause there's "no money."

Meanwhile, we see the latest gas prices, and read about the exploding number of multi-millionaires— who still can't fucking pass through the eye of any needle— and you just want to explode.

Of course the government can't arrive at your side, like Superman, to scoop you up when the clouds of locusts arrive. But we know that many of the crises we're having today are because the roads ain't fixed, they laid off the rescue workers, the repairs went unfunded.

We have no tax base in our state to cope with our problems, and it's not because California isn't still golden with profits. The corporate taxes are so low here, it's beyond reckless. We have the worst-funded schools in the nation— dead last. Our parks are closing, the streets are buckling, there's three cops in town to work the night shift, and the firemen haven't had an hour off in a month. They need ten times the numbers they have to cope with these fires.

People I know who work in public safety whisper to me about how shocked the public would be, if they only knew how undefended we really are. Well, it's pretty obvious, now. Anyone who wants to start a fire or rob a bank, just drop on by; our whole community is walking around with its pants down.

The individual acts of heroism in the past weeks, are, of course, inspiring. My friends in the thick of the smoke are relentless. They'll be marked by this forever.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tassajara fire update

Gina, on the left, and other Tassajara students
get ready for another day of preparing for fire
(photo by Shundo David Haye)

The fires continue to burn in the Ventana wilderness, and from what I can gather from my distant perch here in New Mexico, are creeping closer to Tassajara, perhaps within a mile and half away at this point. Gina calls me nearly every day and she is still good, offering what she can along with the handful of other students who chose to stay and prepare the monastery in case the fire reaches there.

My intuition is that they may need to really evacuate soon. This is big dharma, practicing with impermanence. From an entry today on the Sitting with Fire blog:

Lots of people like the Tassajara zendo and would hate to see it in ashes. Yet, this is a building which owes its life to a fire. A temporary replacement for the zendo which was destroyed by a local fire the year after Zen Center students fought hard to defend the monastery against the Marble Cone fire.

While we sit with the possibility of the fire reaching Tassajara we are playing with the idea of how we could take our cue from the seeds that need fire to open and use this fire to renew ourselves, our community and our places?

So, I continue to wait and pray for Gina's safety and that of all the beings and creatures in that beautiful land, and all beings everywhere.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On the farm

Sunday morning at Rancho Far Side, as Lisa and Djann call this place. Things on the Tassajara fire front are relatively calm at the moment; I spoke with Gina yesterday and she still sounds good, assuring me that everything is okay. So I’m feeling able to shift gears a bit and tell you about my surroundings here, where I will be until July 16.

Lisa and Djann have 20 acres of land on the Rio Chama (“rio” means river), about an hour north of Santa Fe. They moved here two years ago, and they hold a vision of creating a sustainable place to live that welcomes a wide circle of friends and community.

This is fertile land, sitting between the river and the acequia – an irrigation ditch system that was created hundreds of years ago by the Spanish. When they bought the property, the land had been dormant for a while, but Djann and Lisa put a lot of work into it and now there are fields of crops growing… garlic, squash, corn, beans, lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, melons, berries, grapes, sunflowers, and lots more. Last night we had salad nicoise for dinner with romaine lettuce from the garden and grilled albacore and green beans.

This past year, Djann has started up a business – Sunhorse Sustainable Systems – to install solar panel systems and raise awareness of and access to alternative energy technologies. Sunhorse is in start up phase but already has put in solar systems at a few residences and a nearby pueblo.

For as long as I’ve known Lisa and Djann (about 15 years now), they have a wonderful gift for drawing magic and people into their lives, and that’s happening here. This is a lot of land to manage, and recently a ‘wrangler’ showed up to give them a hand – Fred, who now lives in a bunkhouse on the property, and takes care of a couple of horses that are on the land as well as building and fixing things on the property and helping with watering the crops.

So here I am, on this beautiful and magical piece of land with good friends all around, trying to find my place. Creative opportunities seem to flow to me here… there’s the possibility of helping Sunhorse set up a website and maybe help out in other ways, my friend Sharon is working to start up a Buddhist hospice on land nearby and may want support with creating a brochure, and there’s the work at Upaya Zen Center with the chaplaincy training program and possibly more.

The big challenge for me is to remember that I designated this as sabbatical time to rest and renew, to break some old maladaptive patterns and to create a more wholesome and fulfilling life. One old pattern is to say “yes” to everything that comes my way, no matter what the cost to myself. I realize I was wired at an early age to respond to other people’s needs. Not necessarily a bad thing, but important for me to take a deep look at how I nourish myself in the process. And I’m realizing that I want to take some more time to reconnect with my own vision and values.

With that, I’ll close with this great quote from astrologer Rob Brezsny:

“At the heart of the pronoiac [this is the opposite of paranoid… think joy!] way of life is an apparent conundrum: You can have anything you want if you'll just ask for it in an unselfish way. The trick to making this work is to locate where your deepest ambition coincides with the greatest gift you have to give. Figure out exactly how the universe, by providing you with abundance, can improve the lot of everyone whose life you touch. Seek the fulfillment of your fondest desires in such a way that you become a fount of blessings.”

Above: Lisa putting finishing touches on the salad
Below: Djann and Lola the dog survey the fields

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sitting in the Fire

Preparing for fire at Tassajara
photo from Los Angeles Times

It's Saturday morning, I'm in Medanales, NM, but a great deal of my attention and prayers are going to Tassajara Zen Center. I feel like half my life is there.

On Thursday night around 9:30 I spoke with Gina on the phone from inside of Tassajara (she can call me from the one satellite phone there, but I can't call her). She was actually in very good spirits -- along with the 10 or so other priests and students who chose to stay behind and help fire crews, she had put in a long day clearing brush and helping to create fire breaks to protect the monastery should the flames come down into it. She had made dinner for the fire crew the night before and was offering to give massages too... she said she was happy she chose to stay, and it seems that she is in her element. She is a brave woman.

The last updates had the fire at about 3 miles from the monastery with winds possibly coming in from the southeast which would push it even closer in that direction. There's an excellent story in today's LA Times about the fire and Tassajara.

Thanks for all your support and prayers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Settling into New Mexico

I am settling into my home for the next two weeks here in Medanales, New Mexico. I’ll be housesitting for my friends Lisa and Djann. Hardly anyone has ever heard of Medanales, even in New Mexico. I doubt that it has a Wikipedia entry, but you can tell me! It’s about an hour north of Santa Fe, on the road toward Abiquiu (famous as Georgia O’Keefe’s home).

It’s been quite a week of traveling from place to place, and I’m only now catching up on this blog. There’s a lot more to say than what I’m able to write here. I still feel very much in transition, and am still concerned about Gina and a handful of other residents at Tassajara who have chosen to stay there and help fire crews to prepare for the fire, which seems to be headed in that direction. The most helpful sources of information I’ve found so far are the KUSP page and for a more personal take on it, the blog Sitting with Fire started up by the folks who are based in Jamesburg, off of Carmel Valley Road and at the start of the 14-mile dirt road that leads to Tassajara.

Even so, this first week in New Mexico has been good… here are a couple of New Mexico photos; one of my friends Kristin and Joseph who hosted me my first few days here and one of view from their Santa Fe patio. And many thanks to friends Sharon and Greg who gave me a place to stay for the past few nights at their beautiful, off-the-grid home in Medanales. Sharon took me for a super relaxing trip to Ojo Caliente hot springs this past Tuesday.

Above: Kristin and Joseph on their back porch in Santa Fe
Below: The view from the porch!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In New Mexico

Just a quick check in -- I'm in northern New Mexico, writing this at the moment from the Maya Art Cafe near Abiquiu. Very little cell phone or email access here, so I'm having to improvise ways to stay in touch.

Yesterday, I spent the day at Upaya Zen Center in my role as their chaplaincy program coordinator. It's a beautiful place to put in a day of work!

At the moment, I am distracted thinking about my partner Gina, who is up at Tassajara Zen Center, not far from one of the many fires that broke out this past weekend near the Big Sur area. Sounds likely that they may be evacuated... keeping her and all the Tassajara residents in my prayers.

More soon...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Riding the Rails

Pacific Surfliner starting out from San Luis Obispo, Thursday, June 19

Union Station, Los Angeles, Friday evening June 20

I’m writing this at 7:30 am on Saturday morning, the first day of summer, though I won’t be able to post it till later as there is no internet access on this train. I’m on the Southwest Chief traveling just east of Winslow, Arizona. The sun rose early, and the first thing I could see in its morning rays were the ponderosa pines near Flagstaff. Then an elk having breakfast near the tracks!

We got off to a rocky start last night as the train was delayed by more than an hour – the result of the flooding in the Midwest. On top of that, there were tons of screaming children waiting to board the train – the result of summer vacation, I guess. Los Angeles’ Union Station is an architectural gem, but not so relaxing to wait in, in the near 100 degree heat, and with loud voices telling us how delayed the trains were booming out of the speakers and echoing in the huge chamber of the main waiting room.

I was having second thoughts about my choice to take a train instead of flying to New Mexico, but all is forgiven this morning after a surprisingly restful night and a good breakfast in the dining car (“Railroad French Toast” and a sausage plus coffee). Sat at a dining table with a retired San Francisco policeman and a young man from Mexico soon to start a graduate degree in urban design and architecture at UC Berkeley.

I find it so soothing to feel the rocking motion of the train, the rhythm of the tracks going by underneath us, and the slow, leisurely pace of train travel. No one searches you before you get on a train, and most of your fellow passengers are here to enjoy the journey too… there was something very sweet about seeing adults carrying around their favorite pillows and blankets onto the train, and kids bringing their stuffed elephants, bears, etc. Trains will definitely be a highlight of my nascent Center for Nonviolent Transportation!

If all goes according to schedule, we should be in Lamy, New Mexico, around 3 pm this afternoon, where I’ll hop on a bus up to Santa Fe. All in all, it amounts to about a 19-hour trip.

The Pacific Surfliner from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles was a relatively short, beautiful ride… hugging the coastline for much of the day. That train had electrical outlets so I could keep my laptop plugged in… this one doesn’t, so I’m jamming in the writing here before my battery goes.

The view from the Surfliner, somewhere near Santa Barbara

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On the road again

The next line is "i can't wait to get on the road again..." Not sure that's completely true for me in this moment, but like a good Sagittarian, I'll probably be fine once I'm in motion.

Tomorrow I drive my car to San Luis Obispo, then leave it parked there for the month, take the Pacific Surfliner train to Los Angeles, stay overnight with my parents, and then leave on the Friday overnight train for Santa Fe.

I really do love train travel... a couple of weeks ago I woke up from a dream and the words "Institute for Nonviolent Transportation" came to me clear as a bell. I thought, "hey, what a great nonprofit to found!" If there is nonviolent action and nonviolent communication, why not devote more energy to considering nonviolent transportation?

I googled around to see if anyone else is already doing this, and it doesn't seem so. But the one reference to 'nonviolent transportation' that I found led me to a really cool person who responded to my email the next day: Prem Makeig, who lives in Brooklyn and makes kickbikes. How very cool!

I'll write more from the train, and from New Mexico. Till then, here's one of my favorite photos from the past couple of months... taken at Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at the end of April.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Blues... and Intentions

Lest this blog seem too blissful, I’m ready to add some dissonance to the mix tonight.

For the past few days, really the past week, I’ve been in a funky mood, having a hard time feeling motivated to do anything, and feeling, well, I hate to use the word “depressed” for various reasons (maybe the topic of a future blog entry) but definitely feeling blue. If I have any addiction it is to chocolate, and I’ve been on a feeding frenzy as of late. Three hot fudge sundaes in the past three days. (But oh were they good!)
There are days when being untethered to any job identity or fixed address feels incredibly liberating. And there are days like today when I feel lonely and adrift. Perhaps things are getting stirred up because the ground beneath my feet is shifting once again as I prepare to pack up my stuff from the Monterey room that's been my home base for the past 6 weeks and head to New Mexico this Thursday. I've moved around a lot the past five years, so my rootlessness feels especially highlighted this week.

So I thought it might be helpful to me and interesting for you to look at the intentions I set for myself at the beginning of this sabbatical, back in April. I’ve been enjoying the blog “How to Save the World” by Dave Pollard, and he’s got a nice entry about intentions. So this is resonating with me right now.

First and foremost, my big intention was to open up space and time for at least six months so that I could more deeply understand the conditions for joy, creative, expression, and intimacy in my life. And then create those conditions for the next phase of my life.

More specifically, I outlined four things that I wanted to practice during this time:

1. Stay in touch with my body, especially in times of stress. This has been a foundational practice for me recently in the therapy work I’ve done with Tina Stromsted, a wonderful authentic movement therapist in San Francisco.

2. Place intimacy, love, and connection and friendships at the center of my life. Okay, I forgot to add to my addiction list – I can be a workaholic. That’s where this intention comes in.

3. Keep an unwavering commitment to my own nourishment. Nourishment in this sense means what it is that I really need… which is often different than what I want. (I wanted those ice cream sundaes!) This practice has been instilled in me by my Zen teacher, Vicki Austin of San Francisco Zen Center.

4. Practice trust and confidence in the natural generosity of the universe, and my own ability to take care of myself in the material world. Fear of not being or having enough is a big one for me… time, money, etc. This period of not having a ‘regular’ job and paycheck is a way to challenge that belief in myself. I wanted to leave room to be support and surprised by the abundance of the universe, and it’s actually been happening a lot as you may gather from reading my blog.

If you're cruising through and reading my blog, I'd love to hear what your current life intentions are, or even what you think about intentions... are they important to you? are they the same or different from goals? what else are ya thinking? Leave a comment below... c'mon, it's fun!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


If you want to be free, learn to live simply.

Use what you have and be content where you are. Quit trying to solve your problems by moving to another place, by changing mates or careers.

Leave your car in the garage. If you have a gun, put it away. Sell that complex computer and go back to using pencil and paper. Rather than read every new book that comes along, reread the classics.

Eat good food grown locally. Wear simple, durable clothing. Keep a small home, uncluttered and easy to clean. Keep an open calendar with periods of uncommitted time. Have a spiritual practice and let family customs grow.

Of course, the world is full of novelty and adventures. New opportunities come along every day.

So what?

from: The Tao of Leadership, John Heider

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Good Work of Friends, Part 2

Back from Tassajara… the workshop on “Mountains, Rivers, and the Great Earth” with Wendy Johnson and Steve Stucky was fantastic, inspiring, and relaxing all at the same time. More about learnings from that coming soon.

Tonight, the next round of highlighting the work of some of my circle of friends. These three people are vibrant artists who have inspired me to devote more attention to my creativity… my medium is writing, but as my psychic (yes, I have a psychic!) recently told me, in a broader sense, I’m an artist of life. I liked that.

* David King: I met David on my first day of graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies, a way back in the fall of 1993. David was the coordinator for the anthropology department back then… now he’s a collage artist (and much more). The images he creates combine sensuality, spirituality, and just plain camp and fun -- like the one you see above, titled "Shiva Scott." It’s been inspiring to watch David transform his life over the years so that it centers around his art. You can see his work on his website, or if you’re in the Bay Area, visit him at the Mission Open Studios.

* Jenesha De Rivera: Jenesha and I worked together at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship from 2004-2007. Jinky was BPF’s administrative director in those days and still consults for nonprofits, but it’s been even more fun to watch her cultivate her creative side, manifesting in both writing and filmmaking. Check out her website. Jinky and her partner, Patricia, co-edited the anthology Homelands: Womens Journeys Across Race, Place, and Time (published by Seal Press in 2006), and this weekend is the premiere of her film “Labels Are Forever” at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival this coming Saturday, June 14, in San Francisco.

* Susan Moon: Sue is another colleague from Buddhist Peace Fellowship days. Sue is a writer and editor par excellence – she’s the author of The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi, the editor of Being Bodies: Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment and Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism, and she has written more gems than I can possibly list here. Sue leads writing workshops at places like Tassajara Zen Center and Manzanita Village. Visit her website, which is a little out of date, but keep an eye out for her writing workshops because she’s a fantastic teacher too. I consider Sue as one of my editing mentors (Arnie Kotler, founder of Parallax Press and Koa Books, has been another), and it's been an honor to work with her.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Into the Woods

Today I'm headed up to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Monterey. I'll be participating in a workshop with Wendy Johnson and Steve Stucky. Wendy is also an old friend from my days with the Order of Interbeing, and author of a beautiful new book, Gardening at the Dragon's Gate.

And, I get to visit my partner Gina, whose been up at Tassajara as a student since April. I've been missing her, so this will be a treat.

Tassajara is pretty remote... no computers up there! So I'll be out of touch till next week. When I come back, I'm hoping to see a few comments on my blog so that I know you're out there!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Power of Friends -- and Mindfulness

Lately I’ve been reflecting on another way in which I am rich… rich in the people I’ve been blessed to come to know and work with over the past seven years, people on the cutting edge of the movement to integrate meditative and spiritual practices into all realms of life.

Recently, the intersection of meditation and neuroscience has been big in the news. If you haven’t yet seen it, watch this video interview with Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who had the chance to watch her own brain as she experienced a stroke. It’s a powerful tale that illustrates how our brains define our ‘reality,’ and how that reality can so quickly be altered.

I am so blessed to have these folks in my life and to collaborate with them on offering this healing path to wider circles. Here are a few of them.

* Roshi Joan Halifax (pictured above), recently featured in this blog interview with Danny Fisher. Over the past few months, I’ve been helping Roshi to coordinate a Buddhist chaplaincy training program at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s such a great program that I’m tempted to enroll myself at some future point!

* Diana Winston, who is the Director for Mindfulness Education at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center based at UCLA. Diana is an old friend and co-worker from my days at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF). Listen to this interview with Diana to get a sense of her culturally hip yet deeply spiritually grounded perspectives on young people and Buddhism.

* Mirabai Bush, the founder and director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, where I used to be the research director. I've been assisting the Center in a search for a new executive director -- Mirabai will be retiring after leading the organization since 1997. She will be missed! Her work to integrate mindfulness into society has impacted thousands of people from all walks of life -- university professors, lawyers, social justice activists, CEO's... really quite amazing.

* Alan Senauke, another colleague from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Alan has now founded the Clear View Project whose mission is to direct Buddhist-based resources toward relief in social change. One big area of Alan's focus right now is Burma, in the wake of the terrible cyclone that hit last month.

All of them are gifted leaders and healers, and I am truly grateful that they are part of my circle friends. In another blog, I'll highlight some more dear friends and their work.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Maia’s FAQ

I’ve been noticing that friends have been asking me the same set of questions. So, here are some answers to those things you may be wondering…

Where do you live now?
At the moment, I am living in Monterey, California. Sea otters are practically my neighbors. I’ll be here until mid-June, then I head to northern New Mexico to house sit for my friends Lisa and Djann.

Are you moving to New Mexico or what?
I’m trying everything out right now. I have the wonderful opportunity at this moment in my life where I’m not tied down to one home or one job, so I can test out a number of places to see where my heart wants to settle… at least for the next phase of the journey.

My partner Gina is currently up in the mountains at Tassajara Zen Center (not far from Monterey) until the end of September. I’m also charting this life course with her, and we’ll both see where we want to be as the summer comes to an end.

I know that I love it in Monterey – the combination of ocean and history and good people. And northern New Mexico has called to me for a long time for the same reasons (except substitute mountains and mesas and big sky for oceans). We’ll see what happens... I have never liked to live a boring life!

What are you doing for work?
I’m trying to hold the spirit of sabbatical, so mostly I am taking this time to slow down, take long walks by the ocean, write a lot, and consider what I really want to be doing so that I make wise investments of my energy and gifts. But when opportunities pop up that seem intriguing and rewarding to me, I occasionally say ‘yes.’ I like to think of these as expressions of my talents rather than yukky old work.

Some of the projects I've been working on are with Upaya Zen Center and the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. More about that in a future blog.

I've created Five Directions Consulting as a way to connect with people I will enjoy working with. See my business website:

More questions?!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


This week, I’ve spent a lot of time by the ocean. Tonight I went to an amazing presentation by an artist named Bryant Austin at the Hopkins Marine Laboratory in Monterey. Bryant spent months in the Kingdom of Tonga (in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) swimming with humpback whales and photographing them.

Bryant allows the whales to approach him on their own terms, creating a sense of intimacy and physical closeness that is very rare between humans and whales. He takes dozens of high resolution close-up photos so that he can create life-size composite pictures of these majestic creatures. His vision is to share these photos with people all over the world, particularly in places where whale hunting still happens. As he puts it, the goal is “to provide the viewer with an awareness that will give them reason to care.”

The results are pretty astonishing. The prints Bryant shared with us were small versions of the life-size 9 x 25-foot projections he shows. Even so, to glimpse the gentle eye of a whale staring directly at you is an incredible experience. Bryant is headed to Santiago, Chile, in a couple of weeks to show the full-size versions to the International Whaling Commission. Wow.

On Wednesday, I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I love that place so much that I joined as a member a few weeks ago – so now I can just drop in for an hour in the afternoon anytime I feel like it to hang out with the sea otters and the other ocean critters! The photo for this post is one of the otters catching some rays in her blue bucket. Nice life.

A couple of months ago on an aquarium visit, my sweetie Gina and I developed a great affection for the octopus… a shy and very intelligent creature who usually hides in the rocks of her exhibit, but on that day was very lively and moving in a beautifully poetic way across the water, almost like a ballet.

Yesterday, the octopus was also moving around quite a bit. An older woman and her husband were watching the octopus, and the woman jumped back a bit as the octopus started to move its tentacles, and she exclaimed, “That’s disgusting!” I was struck by how different our perceptions can be. Gina and I were enthralled by what we saw as the octopus’ beauty and grace, and we could have watched her for hours. This woman’s reaction was extremely different. A perfect case study in how our perceptions shape our ‘reality.’ I am grateful to have perceived the beauty of the octopus, but I could have just as easily had the same 'disgusted!' reaction as that other woman.

just wondering....have you had experiences like that, where you realized that you could flip around your perception of something in a heartbeat, either for the positive or negative... and what was that like for you?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day Peace Gathering, Santa Cruz

On Monday, I drove up to Santa Cruz at the invitation of Annie Kelley, a Buddhist Peace Fellowship friend who I first met in Washington DC in 2005. The Santa Cruz BPF chapter organized this event. It was a beautiful morning.

We gathered at Mission Plaza in Santa Cruz, and then walked through downtown and along the river, in silence. Our intention was to hold the memories of all who have died in the Iraq war, on all sides, in reverence. As we walked past the sidewalk cafes and stores on Pacific Street, it was amazing to feel how the energy transformed and other people fell silent too.

We ended up back at the plaza and formed a large circle, then some of the BPF members unrolled a huge scroll that they've kept for the past few years -- one of the members did some research to find the names of some of the Iraqi citizens who have been killed, and has kept adding names to this scroll over the years. It spanned the whole length of our circle of about 150 people.

I was invited to read some of the names of U.S. soldiers from the Santa Cruz/San Jose region who have been killed, along with Katherine Thanas, the abbot of the Santa Cruz Zen Center.

So, another Memorial Day passes... so sad to reflect on the loss of life as a result of this war.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Driving Up California's Central Coast

Yesterday I drove back from Pasadena to Monterey, an all-day drive that had all kinds of treasures along the way. I love the landscape along Hwy 101 past San Luis Obispo and through the Salinas Valley… it’s easy to understand John Steinbeck’s inspiration for his writings. The weather was complex and gorgeous all day – sun interspersed with clouds and rain, creating a beautiful play of light on the hillsides. In a daring act (probably not a wise one), I held my camera up to the windshield as I was driving to catch a few shots… one of the better ones is posted above. I don’t advise trying this… truckdrivers will give you dirty looks!

I also saw some wildlife... on a stop at Morro Bay I found a sanctuary for nesting birds, and watched as majestic white herons and cormorants flew over me towards their babies. The sound was amazing—all kinds of peeps and cries and other bird sounds. They are protected on this spit of land, and there were hundreds of birds nesting and flying towards their nests. Got some photos of that too -- including the heron landing in her nest, above.

And finally, at a rest stop along 101, I was just hanging out by a fence that protected land that sloped down toward a creek. I heard a rustling sound and stayed very quiet as a bobcat made its way out from under some brush and walked along the fence no more than 6 feet from me. I was going to take a photo, but the movement to get the camera out of my pocket caught his (her?) attention and he gave me a growl that convinced me to just stay still… even with a fence between us, he looked pretty fierce. So – no photo of mr. bobcat, you’ll just have to imagine that one!

What a day!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to be rich without having a lot of money

This morning, I am writing from the big, bustling Whole Foods market in Pasadena, where I'm spending the next week with my mom while my dad travels to Canton, Ohio, to visit his older sister.

It's hot here... feels like it's been hot everywhere in California. Drove from Monterey down to here yesterday on Hwy 101... and the temperature felt like it matched the highway number for most of the day. But there were some blissful breaks when the highway bent toward the ocean. I stopped in Morro Bay (one of my favorite California coastal towns) for a great lunch of halibut tacos and 1 absolutely brilliant barbecued oyster at the Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant (don't let the cheezy mermaid scare you away from this great place!). Ate outside on a dock and watched the fishing boats coming back in from the ocean.

One realization I've had over the last week of this sabbatical is that I am rich -- rich in time. So often I've defined 'rich' by the amount of money I have in the bank (which is never much), and too often I've carried around a 'mind of poverty' (from the Zen Peacemaker Order's precepts -- see #8). But this week, it hit me that time is incredibly valuable... and now I'm rolling in it. This week I had enough time to make a scrumptious dinner of risotto (first time I've ever made it!) and chicken and bok choy for my friend Kristi and me, enough time to take a leisurely drive to Southern California, and enough time to give my parents a hand when they need it. It's so good to feel rich.

Since gold and yellow are good colors for richness, I'm posting a photo shot this past week... some more beautiful Monterey flowers, nasturtiums this time.

May you find the richness in your life as does it show up for you?

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to help earthquake victims in China

Bodhisattva Alert:
The Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist relief organization that does amazing work worldwide, is focusing its compassion and good energy to China right now. Tzu Chi members will be heading into the streets to collect money and good wishes to start a fund for long term recovery efforts... you can donate online too. Be a bodhisattva and give 'em a hand.

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement

Seems that I have company in my quest to simplify life and distill what's important. Good article in today's NYT about a number of families who are doing the same thing. According to the article, we owe some debt to the hippies of the '60s. No doubt... and in a strange way we also owe a debt to the current and coming energy crisis which is forcing us to re-think our priorities and how we live our lives. Maybe we even have George Bush to thank for all this. Feels like we are riding on a tidal wave of change these days, and change is what we make of it. Crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Somewhere on a beautiful walk through Pt. Lobos park yesterday, just south of Monterey and along the Pacific Ocean, I had this idea that I should keep a blog about these next months of my life, which I am intending as sabbatical time. This feels like a precious time, a time to dive deep and pull up some jewels from the muck, a time to lay the foundation for the second half of my life.

I realized that I’ve been working hard at full time jobs over the past seven years (motivated to pay off big credit card and student loan debt). So the timing was really perfect for this sabbatical. I can feel in my bones the wisdom of taking the seventh year as a time of rest and reflection.

The photo above, by the way, is what I see when I look out the bedroom window of the house where I'm staying in Monterey. I'm here through the generosity of my friend Kristi who's offered me a temporary home base for the next month. What a beautiful place to start this sabbatical!

Recently it's occurred to me that I’m taking this time not just for me, but for all beings (that’s the we way talk in Buddhism), and that I am practicing more open space and time for my friends, and friends-yet-to-be-met, who are still mired in the world of busy-ness which only very recently I have been able to step out of.

So, this blog’s for you. For anyone who’s ever wished to be able to step off the wheel of life for just a while, not so much as an escape, but as a way to find what truly has heart and meaning in our lives. I invite you along for the ride… I’m looking forward to sharing big insights and mundane observations with you on this blog.

I'm curious -- have you taken sabbatical time in your lives? If so, what came out of it for you? Leave some comments... I'd love to see this blog be more of a conversation!