Dharma Rain on the Climate Train, Climate March & Flood Wall Street

Please check out this video made of the Climate Train and the Marches in New York made by David Nelson.

smilecalm

Meditation is not meant to help us avoid problems or to run away from difficulties.
It is meant to allow positive healing to take place.
To meditate is to learn how to stop – to stop being carried away by our regrets about the past,
our anger or despair in the present, or our worries about the future.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Thank you grandma for offering your presence
with the masses who took action
so that a future would be possible for us.
People taking action, even when elected leaders would not.
You looked so happy carrying your sign
“there is no planet B”
next to friends’ signs
“tar sands are for losers”
and “Grandmas Against Global Warming.”

Thank you grandpa for riding on the people’s climate train with hundreds of others
attending dozens of workshops about the environmental causes and conditions in 2014.
Those actions, prayers and meditations helped
wake up grassroots…

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Every Breath a Prayer

drum and fireAbout a year ago I blogged about the possibilities of living to breathe rather than breathing to live. The idea is that when we can truly take a deep breath, we connect ourselves to each other and to the plants, animals, and all of our ancestors. We take in the oxygen made by the plants and in return give them the carbon monoxide that they need. And the inert argon molecule is one that has existed on the planet since life began, going in and out of different lungs constantly throughout time, linking us with all ancestors human and non-human who have ever lived and breathed.oak and view

Every breath becomes a prayer when we are conscious of that breath connecting us to all beings, past, present and future ones as we infuse the out breath with love and take in the wisdom of the ages. Being able to breathe in deep peace, relaxing ourselves as we breathe, gives us a kind of resilience we can get no other way. We calm ourselves and gain access to realms of greater wisdom and resources.

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Sunset at a Spiral Gathering

I recently attended a Spiral Gathering in Jenner, CA. There eight women gathered to enter the world of the Between, (the space between us) through collaborative art and ritual. We have no prior agenda, though anyone who wants to can contribute art supplies and we may or may not use them. We usually let our dreams lead us into explorations through poetry, visual art, improv, music, and movement. We have found over the years that the more we breathe deeply and allow ourselves to be led, rather than impose our will on the gathering, the more magic we encounter that weaves us into a form not previously imagined.

The spirits of the Nigerian girls who have been kidnapped appeared in our circle and with them came a lot of pain associated with the devaluation of women over the centuries. (this gathering took place before the shooting rampage in Isla Vista this week enacted by a young man who evidently believed that if he wanted a woman, he should by rights have her as he would have any other “thing” that he wanted.)

Imagining what the Nigerian girls might need, we collaboratively made them objects out of clay and infused them with resourcefulness and resilience.

Because at times the pain of these girls (combined with centuries of violence against women) became overwhelming, we decided that we needed a ritual at the sea to release the pain so that we could approach such issues and not have to be frightened that the pain will overwhelm us.

But I couldn’t walk to the ocean because of a foot injury. After discussing how important it was to get to the ocean, I found myself saying, “Well, I am not opposed to crawling…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found a place where the parking lot was closest to the sea and then all those who could, crawled across the dunes with me to the sea. With all of us doing it together, it felt somehow evolutionary, like we were evolving back to the sea. There was a humility, a closeness to the earth, a different perspective on the sand and on the journey itself. This resourcefulness was what we had in mind for the girls. It involved being open to possibilities and transforming obstacles into opportunities.

Breathing in, we open to wisdom and assistance from the invisibles; Breathing out, we embrace the present circumstances.

We completed the ritual using material from dreams some of us had had and released it into the sea in a clay boat.

Healing and creativity are inextricably intertwined. Both are so much more accessible when we can release fear and our own agendas, take that deep prayerful breath and see what comes.

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collaborative mask made at a Spiral Gathering a few years ago

 

Utter Delight

This week my neighbor asked me if I would come and present the didgeridoo to her kid’s pre-school class. Partly for the sake of good neighborly relations and partly because the offer intrigued me, I agreed to do it.

I brought the big agave didgeridoo which is quite impressive in size and before I even played it, they were very excited. One girl even left the room because she was so scared that the sound would be too loud. As soon as I started to play the drone, the whole classroom broke into laughter—they were just so delighted and surprised by the sound, they could barely contain themselves. Their little faces lit up, their eyes and ears alive with utter presence in the moment. It took all of my concentration not to just break up and laugh with them to be part of that wave of utter delight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn reflecting on this experience, I realized how seldom I completely and utterly abandon myself to delight. There is a strong element of abandoning one’s judgment, moving into a beginners’ mind of innocence, openness and a complete willingness to be surprised.

Another incident this week brought me delight. A man called and asked if I would give him didgeridoo lessons in trade for him inventing a didgeridoo that could be taken apart and put into a backpack and then reassembled when I wanted to play it. I wanted to see what he could do and was happy to trade. He ended up fixing our bathtub/shower that had been a thorn in my side for months now. And he has given me many ideas about improvisation within the realm of didgeridoo making. What I have received from him I value much more than the money he would have paid me. He surprised and delighted me with his ingenuity and interest.

As we become adults (as I typed adults, I put an extra “l” in accidentally and saw the word “adullts,” maybe not a typo after all), many of us develop a sense that we have seen it all before, that nothing can surprise us. Maybe we do this to shield ourselves from disappointment or to keep from looking to others like fools for not having seen something coming. A creeping cynicism invades our worlds dismiss so many things that are worthy of our delight. Delight is a tonic that infuses one with energy. I find that it actually takes more energy to look cool, be jaded and resist the charms of the world than to give in to that purely natural sensation of delight.

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My Mom

On this Mother’s Day morning as we honor our mothers and recall our childhoods, let us remember those moments when we felt delight and bring them into our present experience. This morning, our cactus bloomed in splendid white and yellow and the smell wafted all the way up to our back door. As I lay on the ground with my nose in its bloom, I was overcome with the delight and magnificence of this rare occurrence (it blooms for two days some years and other years, not at all).

Those kids woke up something in me that I am relaxing into now. All I have to do is get out of the way, relax and let delight overtake me.

Not Yet Out of Breath

Yesterday I heard the Del Sol String Quartet with special guest didgeridoo player Stephen Kent play a piece called String Quartet #14 composed by Australian Peter Sculthorpe for string quartet and didgeridoo.* The score was based on a legend that Tasmanian colonial government soldiers once drove a tribe of Aboriginals to a forbidding mountainous bluff where they had the choice of being shot or jumping to their deaths. They chose to jump and as they did, they yelled, “Quamby, quamby” which means “save me, save me.”

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Stephen Kent, master didgeridoo player, host of world music show on KPFA (Thursdays at 11:00 am)

The piece had four movements: Prelude, In the Valley, On High Hills and At Quamby Bluff. For me, when the didgeridoo entered he song, I felt a great sense of relief, of being held by forces unseen, as if instead of people jumping to their deaths, the earth came up to meet them and carry them home. It felt almost as if the strings were the human mind telling this gruesome story and the didgeridoo heralded a larger, ancient planetary story that is not yet ended.

Western culture is still, as it were, driving the indigenous people off the cliff and yet their very breath, the breath needed to play the didgeridoo still circulates around this planet, surrounding humans with the knowledge that we are part of the earth, that we are all connected, no matter how many times we drive try to that wisdom over the cliff.

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Aboriginal style artwork

Last fall I visited an overlook at Canyon De Chelly in Arizona that reminded me of this Tasmanian story. In the 1800’s there were people living in the caves along the rim of Canyon De Chelly and a massacre took place. Some soldiers stood where we were standing and shot into a cave across the way and some soldiers made their way into the cave to kill the remaining people. The cave is called The Place Where Two Fell because one of the native women grabbed a soldier and took him over the cliff with her. I read the story before my traveling companion, Viviane, and I went to the overlook and I was reluctant to even go there. But we decided that for the sake of healing, we would go and I would play didgeridoo into the canyon.

When we arrived, we heard haunting Native American flute music drifting towards us. I not only played into the canyon from there, but I began to collaborate with the Native flute player, D’von Charley. We played for a long time with Viviane singing and Lu from Belgium dancing. The whole tableau was a prayer for healing.

pottery sherd found near Chaco Canyon, NM

pottery sherd found near Chaco Canyon, NM

The human race is not out of breath yet and neither are the indigenous peoples. A Navajo man that Viviane and I talked to near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico told us that in the Diné language, to say the word for “thank you” to someone, one must engage deep inside oneself at the diaphragm, taking a huge breath that penetrates one’s being. And one does not just thank the person, but the entire context in which that person arose, the ancestors, the plants, the animals, the land that supported that person’s life.

With the breath we make this healing music. With the circular breath of the didgeridoo, we acknowledge the circle of life that sustains us, the ancestors and plants and animals who came before us. We make a way for that breath that sustains all life. And we give thanks for that breath and for those who write and play such music. Thank you Del Sol String Quartet, Stephen Kent, composer Peter Sculthorpe and all those who  have lost their lives in this struggle to keep humans in right balance with the rest of the natural world.

(*the didgeridoo is an Aboriginal drone instrument made out of a eucalyptus branch hollowed out by termites that is used for ceremony and hunting)

Serendipity

Many people have been asking how my husband Adam David Miller and I were able to go to Cuba without going in a group. The short answer is magic.

When I asked  Adam where he wanted to go to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, he said without hesitation, “To Cuba!”

Adam and me in front of the Hotel Nacional in Havana

Adam and me in front of the Hotel Nacional in Havana

He then said that he did not want to go illegally, and he did not want to go with a group. Even though I had been to Cuba with a group 15 years ago, I was a bit stumped as to how to do that with the idiotic travel restrictions the US government has placed on its citizens in relation to travel to Cuba. I started researching and trying to get in touch with Cuba sister city projects to see if we could go under the auspices of either the Berkeley or Richmond projects. But we kept running into road blocks—unanswered e-mails, locked doors when we showed up a meetings, etc. and it was looking iffy at best.

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Elise playing didgeridoo in Alameda at an Esoterica event

Then one day (you could say once upon a time…) I was visiting my friend Edie to play some music. And there was a woman there that Edie had recently met, Karen Lee Wald, who looked vaguely familiar to me. After we were introduced, she began talking about her connections to Cuba. At some point I realized that I had actually met her when I went to Cuba since she is a well-known journalist and expert on Cuba, and our group had met with her. I told her that Adam and I wanted to go there. I also explained that I thought maybe I could teach didgeridoo to people there because I am sure that they cannot afford C-PAP machines, the most common treatment for the disease. Since didgeridoo is a natural and cheap alternative that actually ameliorates sleep apnea and is also very good treatment for asthma, I thought it would be a perfect fit for Cuba. She was not only interested in that, but said that she herself used a C-PAP machine and would love to be weaned off of it. We started a trade where I taught her didgeridoo and she helped us set up our trip to Cuba.

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Adam in Karen’s house in Havana reading from Ticket to a community activist

She wasn’t planning to be in Cuba when we wanted to go (January or February) so when she did go in November, 2013, she began making contacts for us, places to stay, drivers, and people to meet. She read Adam’s autobiography, Ticket to Exile and began thinking of many people in Cuba, especially poets and writers who would want to meet Adam. And she kept saying that it would be so much better if she were there when we were to make sure these meetings happened. Finally she wrote and offered to come with us if we would just pay her expenses. To save money, we could stay with her in her house in Havana. What an incredibly generous offer which we, of course, took her up on immediately.

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Film maker Gloria Rolando

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Adam and Pablo Armando Hernandez

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Adam, Elise and Poet Nancy Morales

Karen became our guardian angel, advising us on what to bring, how to document our trip so that we were sure to stay under the exemption to the travel restrictions. And she proceeded to take us under her wing, advise us to go through Cancun, whisk us around Cuba where we met famous poets, writers and artists including poet, Pablo Armando Hernandez; Esteban Morales (expert on race and racism in Cuba), Gloria Rolando (documentary film maker currently working on a project about Haitians in Cuba), poet Nancy Morales, and activist Yolanda Gonzales to name a few. She showed us a side of Cuba that could only be shown by someone who lived there (she raised her kids there starting in the late ‘60’s).

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Karen in the studio of Cuban community artist Fuster.

Talk about serendipity. That seems to have been our mode of transport. Thank you, Karen!

I feel a responsibility to tell the stories of Cuba now that I am back especially since we get such warped reporting here in the States. See the last blog and ones to come.

Abuelita! Abuelita!

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In the studio of Fuster, community artist extraordinaire. “We think we are wandering through Never-Never Land… until like a thunderbolt, we become unexpectedly aware of the fact that this is a trip to the center of ourselves…” (from Fuster: the Quest for a Dream) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Rodr%C3%ADguez_Fuster

“Abuelita! Abuelita!” cried the eleven year old autistic Cuban child in heart-wrenching and primal screams for his grandmother as their family boarded our plane from Santiago de Cuba to Havana a couple of weeks ago. Each time the family calmed him down a bit, something such as the plane beginning its taxi would remind him that he was leaving his Abuelita and his wailing would begin again. I don’t know if they were simply returning home to Havana or they were leaving the country.

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view from the roof of the house where we stayed in Santiago.

I can still feel that expression of deep grief and without much effort, I could join in that wailing, maybe not directly for my grandmother but for all those I am connected to and have lost and for deep connection itself, to others and to the land. Leaving Santiago, I felt a kind of bereavement because in such a short time, I had become connected to the neighbors in the neighborhood in which Adam and I had stayed. There we had had time to relax and let the energy of the place seep into our pores (as the sweat seeped out—maybe making room?).  Cubans say that Santiago is a place of great hospitality, but what I felt went far beyond that–to love itself and to a sincere looking out for one another. The place welcomed loving without reason, quickly and without reserve. It’s ineffable, yes. But I know it when I feel it and love was running through the streets.

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Vegetable and fruit vendor singing out, “Ajo, cebollo,” throughout the day.

So when I heard the young boy who had no inhibitions about expressing his grief, I could feel my heart break with longing for something that I miss back here in the United States with all of its material wealth. We speak of making sure there is a safety net so that no one hits the ground when bad times befall us. Cuba felt like a place where everyone was already on the ground. They hadn’t fallen there but fought long and hard to get there and to stay there, together. No one is way high up in some World Trade Tower, but everyone is together on the ground, in the squares and the backyards, taking good care of each other and the ground itself. All the resources there on the ground are shared; everyone has a guarantee of food, a place of live, excellent health care and education that seeks out what one is good at and nurtures it, be that engineering, visual art, music, etc.

Looking around here after returning from Cuba, I kept having the sensation of falling. Everything seemed so precarious with shiny surfaces reflecting a Potemkin village.** So much feels like surface- only, temporary and without depth. I contrast that with an honest and creative shabbiness that pervades Cuba, a sincere attempt to live lives as best they can with limited shared resources. They are the first to complain when something is not right there, but very few complain about socialism itself, just ideas to make it work better, with less bureaucracy and more streamlining. In the end, all the tweaking to make it better, rests on the intention that all will share in the wealth of the nation, not just the one percent who will get richer and richer at the expense of everyone else.

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Casteneda (left), wife and 100 year old parents and Adam (second from right)

It is no small difference between here and there. We, too, are constantly tweaking, but in the end unless we change things radically, we will still be living in a culture based on capitalism, where the primary motivator is greed, and our struggles will still result in environmental destruction and huge disparities among people with some in abject poverty, without the necessities of life: health care, food, education and a place to stay.

A net is a lonely and drafty place to land, though it is better than nothing. Luckily there is a place in the world that has been trying something different for 55 years now and while it is not perfect, it is definitely worth experiencing, if only to give us the knowledge that it does not have to be the way it is in our country. That small island has so much to teach us and because there are so many restrictions on our travel and trade imposed by our own government, we have so few ways of learning them. Maybe it is just too great a threat for our citizens to learn how many things are possible (even in a poor country) if we are looking to the benefit of humanity instead of the benefit of a few ultra-wealthy individuals.

Abuelita! Abuelita! May this deep and ancient sadness find expression so that our home, too, can be  one where people are real, watch out for each other, and express our love to each other and to the other beings that live here, on the ground, together.

**(originally used to describe a fake village, built only to impress. According to the story, Grigory Potemkin erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. The phrase is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is.)

Feeling for the Trees

ImageI feel for the trees. A huge (120-150 foot) eucalyptus tree that lived for over one hundred years next to the Victorian house at 14th and Lakeside in Oakland blew down in the big windstorm we had about a month ago.

At Daré (Daré is a Shona word for Council and is a once-a-month gathering in Oakland open to everyone and dedicated to healing and peacemaking) held two weeks ago, someone spoke of the downed Eucalyptus tree that he had used as an anchor point when he jogged around Lake Merritt. To see it on the ground had stunned him. Walking amongst its downed branches, he could see beauty that had been too high for his eyes before—the patterns in the bark, the colors of the leaves. ImageSo much beauty on this earth takes place outside of our ability to perceive it. And yet, how often do we really look at what we are capable of seeing. We move so fast.

When a friend and I went to pay homage to the valiant tree last week, a feeling of immense vulnerability swept over me. That something so large and seemingly invincible could crash down that way. It could have taken some humans or their structures with it, but instead it fell onto a large magnolia tree (it is yet to be seen if that tree will survive) but not onto the road or the structures that stand nearby. It lay there, immense, broken, with its root ball exposed, its lifeblood, its lifetime of stories laid bare for all who cared to listen. We climbed down into the hole left by those roots and could see a rottenness at the core that must have contributed to the fall. Image

The tree seemed to have been perched on a rock (or at least very hard clay) at the middle of where it had stood. Now we could run our hands over exposed roots, intertwine them with our fingers and our minds. Was it the drought that caused this to happen? And how many more will fall before it is over? How many will they take with them? How much unseen suffering is happening right now to the trees?Image

Trees are a huge part of the respiratory system of our planet, taking in our carbon dioxide and through photosynthesis converting it into nutrients and oxygen so that some kind of balance of in-breath and out-breath can be maintained. Our future is caught up in the web of well being of trees. There was a time in most cultures when humans worshiped trees as sacred bridges between earth and sky. Trees are living beings which have the capacity to slow us down, to allow us to see inside of time as they span centuries as guardians of place. They provide constancy when so much is changing around us. And yet maybe that takes too much for granted as they, too, are vulnerable to disease, old age and drought.Image

Poet Morton Felix who passed away almost two years ago wrote these lines.

“This evergreen chill

spirals through lungs shaped like leaves

breathing its breath

upon being’s instrument.”

                                      From a poem entitled Autumn by Morton Felix

 

Being’s instrument. Isn’t that what we are as we live to breath (instead of breathing to live), fully inhabiting this instrument that is us? This breath, kept in a place of honor and primacy, connects us to all beings who live now, who have ever lived and those who are yet to come. And it places us directly at the roots of our fellow travelers, the trees, as they work to keep this planet in balance. We must not be cavalier with their lives—each and every one is a precious being, as is each and every human. How can we honor them, tend them, learn to understand their sacred language (see the book by A. T. Mann: The Sacred Language of Trees)?

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tree altar. (credit: Nicki Koethner)

 

In this new year, maybe we can all consciously notice the trees in our neighborhood and in our travels, spend extra time getting to know and appreciate them, breathe with them, talk to them and most of all, listen.