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!