Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We Lift Each Other Up....

Thank you all... for the beautiful and uplifting comments you left for me on yesterday's post.

It might seem silly that I say they lift me up - but they do. Anyone who downplays the importance of the things we say to each other on these sites isn't thinking. I've seen some amazing things happen - here and on other sites - when someone cuts a vein and lets it bleed into the template.

I'd like to say I've given a lot of thought to what to post tonight... but it's not true. A stomach bug bit and I've been trying to think about how to install cable in the bathroom. You know, when I can stay out of there long enough to string the wire and hook up a TV.

I know. TMI. But it's the truth - for right now.

I did want to say thanks though. I feel uplifted by the things all of you said (minus the troll) and it's a good reminder for me, too, to leave nice comments for everyone.

We can influence each other.

Tell me about the nicest comment you've ever received on your site. :)


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Face of Poverty....

According to federal guidelines, I live below the poverty level. According to my tax return, I lived on $14, 037.00 in 2007.

I decided to offer this portrait, based on our discussion of the homeless yesterday and my assertion that they should not be treated like children.

So.. here is one portrait.. of one person... who is considered "poor". Actually, the term "I don't have a lot of money" is a better fit because "poor" in my opinion is a state of mind. It is an attitude. I'll explain this later.

I am college educated with a degree in sociology. In the work force, I was a unix system administrator at a large investment company making mid-five figures. I am divorced and do not have children. I am a reasonably intelligent person, although my relational spatial skills were impacted by a mini-stroke in the mid-90s. Sometimes it is hard to tell where one thing is in relation to another. I can not drive when tired. I drop things a lot. I have a hard time walking on uneven surfaces. Still, I can think ~ and quite well.

I make choices without anyone else's help. In fact, I prefer it. If I ask for help, advice is received with an open mind .. but the ultimate choice is my own and I am responsible for the results. My decision-making style tends to be pragmatic. I'm reasonably savvy which is partially evidenced by the fact that I live on such a low income and have everything I need. Note: not "everything I want." I rent the mother-in-law unit in someone else's house in a pleasant suburban neighborhood with beautiful lawns and sculpted yards.

I'm a fairly average looking middle-aged person. I'm overweight but that is not a result of my financial status. It is a result of bad food choices. When I'm depressed, I binge. It is not because it has been imposed on me by the system. If you met me at Starbuck's, you wouldn't guess that I have any disabilities. I'm articulate and can carry on a good conversation on a wide range of topics. I do not babble, own a tin foil hat or howl at the moon. You wouldn't assume that I am "poor". I dress well and am creditworthy.

I am also a very environmentally sensitive person. My sensitivity to light and sound is pronounced. Bright light and ambient noise can make me vomit, particularly when sounds compete with each other. The sound of bass will make me sick. I've had two emotional breakdowns, one in 2001 and another in 2004. Since that time, I have lived on social security disability insurance with a dual diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD. I am a sober alcoholic but have never done recreational drugs. I am socially phobic until I feel safe in a group of people. Those diagnoses are meaningless and truly don't tell anything of relevance or about me as a person. Basically, they address my level of adaptation to the culture which has been poor. I am notably eccentric.

I am who I am... If you meet me here, I am one way. If you meet me in Thailand, you'll be meeting a different person. My spirit is lighter there. I am an outspoken cultural dissident and have been since the late 60s. I adopted my Thai way of life in 2001. I do not consider myself "unlucky" or "less than" anyone else while acknowledging that I am "different".

I like to think I am fairly typical of "poor" people. We are many and varied - individuals like everyone else. There are some who require far more assistance than I ever would. Those people deserve our help.

When I say "poor is a state of mind", it is a powerlessness in one's own life and approach to living. It is about being helpless, sometimes intentionally. It is about viewing the world a certain way and measuring oneself against it. It is buying the whole ticket that personal value is based on financial status. It is poverty of spirit. That leads to many poor people being chronically dissatisfied.

That comes from a variety of sources as well, not the least of which is the cultural edict that "poor people" are somehow "less than" those who have more, own more and consume more. It comes from the cultural theft of the dignity which should be afforded to every human being, regardless of their demographic status.

So.. just my opinion.. but the best way to help the "poor" is to change the cultural attitude. Allow people to be who they are with all the dignity they have coming as autonomous human beings.

The day someone says I should be told when to go to bed, when I can eat, when I can go potty, when I can come and go or what I have to value is the day I need to leave this earth.

Without dignity, there is no life.

So. .. if you have read this, you now know a "poor person". I hope it provides you with an alternative view to the media image - or the image promoted by the culture. We are not all lazy, drug-addicted baby machines. We don't all make bad choices and we're not all responsible for our external conditions. (We are certainly responsible for our responses to them.) Those images are promoted for one single reason: to "other" poor people and make it acceptable to "look down" on them. It creates fear and keeps the population in line. No one wants to be poor and looked down upon, judged as "less than" so they stay on the hamster wheel, producing and consuming, even if it kills them far too soon.

It's not that scary. Really. Being "poor", that is. We're just people - and most of us are perfectly decent people with good values and decent lives. It's okay to know us. We don't bite. And it's not contagious.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Homelessness in Perspective...

There are several posts about homelessness today, most of them written far more beautifully and more evocatively than I can muster.

I have some strong feelings about the issue as most do, but mine might be a bit different than what you'll read elsewhere.

I think of the root of the problem. Why would any society allow people to live on the streets like soi dogs, begging for food, water, medical care or housing?

And what does that say about the society?

For those of us who already know, what can we do to help? What can we do to create the social change that is necessary to alleviate that type of suffering? And should we even concentrate on that at all?

Equally important, how do we deal with the problem in the short-term - to keep people alive while the long term can be examined and the time can be given for cultural change to take place?

Why do we help homeless people? We help them because we know at the root that we are not separate and they need the help. Ultimately, there is no larger objective. We help them because they need help and because we can.

We don't need to evaluate each case and decide who is deserving and who is not. We don't need to put conditions on it. We don't need to lord it over another human being and say "I think you deserve help because you fit the criteria of my personal judgement system but your friend Sam just doesn't cut it". We need to do it because we are human beings and we need to do it because that's Right Action.

In the larger sense, we all need to make some decisions about policies; local, state and national. If government is truly (as porported) a reflection of the collective will, what are the policies saying about the priorities of any given society? If the US democratic system works as it is said to work, George Bush didn't get any power in a vacuum. His values and priorities reflected the values and priorities of the majority.

Meanwhile, in any society, US or not, the first thing and most important thing we can control is our own way of existing in the world. We can use these larger social issues as a distraction for what needs to be done right now - or we can realize that the small things we might do as individuals will finally reflect in a larger sense.

Depending on what you believe our purpose in living might be, your actions or lack of actions will reflect that. If you believe as I do, that we are all responsible for alleviating suffering wherever we find it, actions will reflect that, too.

So it's really rather simple. Feed a homeless person. Give a few bucks when you can without attaching to the outcome. If that person uses it for something we might not approve of, that's not for us to decide. Detach from what happens beyond the immediate action.

Listen to a homeless person. Understand and realize his or her common humanity. They are just like you and me. We are just like them.

Acknowledge his or her humanity. Be kind. It seems that homeless people become objectified and "othered" to an extent that they don't seem quite real.

When all is said and done, Jesus was right. What we do to and with each other is a reflection of who we are. When we do to Others, we do to ourselves.

That's my two cents.

What's yours?


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday: Guest Post - Post Feminism

"I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to." - Alice Walker

While at a conference hosting 1,000 or so women it was hard to ignore the underlying tones and vibrations. A friend of mine commented that she was "worried about so many vaginas in one room". I initially thought it was funny but after thinking on it later that night I felt saddened by it. Because although we're not supposed to admit that women are often inhumane to one another the fact is glaring us in the face. In the new wave of feminism it was taught that calling women out on such things was playing into the patriarchal goal to divide us and pit us against one another. We were supposed to unite as one and take on the "enemy" which was definitely not each other. By the time my generation came along it was much more common to site these difficulties that exist within the feminist movement as the reason for a fractured community. Or maybe it's just that we were born into a time when women had already accomplished so much that we felt the need to take on humanity as a whole, not just in regard to feminism. Whatever the reason it does not take away from the conflict and dynamics, which still exists between women that tears us apart.

I remember when I was in elementary school there was the Queen Bee, named Jill. She transferred in from another school when I was in 3rd grade. Up until that point our group of friends had not yet discovered the notion of excluding certain girls from our little circle on any given day for any given reason. We were not clued in to indirect aggression and the subtleties that accompany such actions. Jill quickly asserted her dominance and the group became her lemmings. I fell in with the pack as not to stand out. Almost every day it was decided that we should not speak to a certain girl for whatever reason Jill dreamed up in the school yard that morning. Whether it be because someone had the wrong color hair clip or just because the wind changed – we never questioned it. Imagine being 7 or 8 years old and walking up to your group of friends only to have them ignore you. Completely ignore you. You say "Hi!" and smile and are greeted with cold-shouldered silence. Nobody even makes eye contact. And no explanations are offered. You slink off to the corner of the playground and wait for the bell to ring so you can run back to your desk. All of us experienced that at one point or another. And then one day Jill decided to descend upon my best friend. A girl who had lived across the street from me since birth who was in the grade below us. She was adopted. Which was "odd" enough to set her apart and Jill saw her as an easy target. I stood up to her. I was ridiculed. I was tormented and lost every single one of my friends. My mother tried to intervene and speak with the school and Jill's parents. It only made it worse. It got to the point where I was so miserable my parents pulled me out of school and we moved to another district.

I use that one example but the fact is I have a dozen more. And I'd be hard pressed to find a woman who has never experienced similar situations, whether when they were 7, 17, 27 or 57. As we grow older the rules of the games change but underneath it all boils down to the same thing.

My partner often tells me that I'm sexist because I continue to harp on about the dynamics between women and not men. First of all, I'm a woman so I speak about what I know. And second, I have a daughter and I worry about the dynamics that will surround her as she grows older. I will admit that there are dynamics between boys and then men that I'm sure are damaging. Nothing that I say here is meant to take away from that. It's just not part of this discussion right now. And although a fundamental principle of feminism is to state that we want equality it does not mean we don't recognize the differences that exist between the sexes. While aggressiveness between infants and toddlers might look the same to an observing eye, regardless of the gender, it is because they lack the verbal skills to express themselves. Once children reach the age of verbal development it's a completely different scenario. While boys continue to punch, hit and kick one another, girls develop a sense of social intelligence at a very young age and begin to employ their defenses in a different manner. She learns that the safest way to attack is behind someone's back or in a similarly indirect manner. Whether or not this occurs because of what she learns at home or what it taught and expected from society as a whole is a much larger discussion.

My interest in this is not only what I have learned and want to continue to learn about the way women interact with one another but how to raise a girl and then a young woman in a society where such interactions are prevalent. Or is it just not possible? How do we change the way we as women interact with one another and stop the games?

(This post was written by DefiantMuse. She can be found at Musings of a Defiant Mother.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Has Ahhhnold Gone Off The Beam?

I don't often get political here but this just has to be said.

Has Arnold Schwartzenegger gone over the edge? It seems he has a bit too much muscle ~ and not much between the ears.

Supposedly on Monday, he will sign an executive order that will lower the wages of state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour. Not California's minimum wage. Federal minimum wage. And then he'll just fire the part-time workers.

He must have the foresight of an infant.

By taking this action, there will be more foreclosures and less buying. There will be more dependence on social services. More people will need food stamps and possibly even more will end up on welfare. There will be more hungry kids. There will be more homeless. For those who can survive it, the state will be short workers which means it will be very difficult to get any state business completed.

That wage comes up to $1043.00 a month which is not a livable wage in most California cities. It certainly isn't in Sacramento where rents average $800-900 a month for a modest apartment and mortgages are usually in four digits.

Arnold is out of touch with the reality of ordinary working people. It's easy to come from a position of privilege such as his and declare solutions that may be politically expedient but ignore the long-term fallout. You'd think someone who openly supports capitalism as a social system would at least know how it works. It doesn't take Adam Smith to figure this one out.

Instead of raising taxes which done at the appropriate rate would be barely noticeable, he is proposing an action that will wreak devastation on hundreds (if not millions) of people.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Viral Beauty....

"The session transformed from panelists speaking to an audience to a circle of people engaged in conversation about how the blogosphere can be an opportunity to express, connect and organize to celebrate beauty, choice, and service to others. " - Staci at Practical Spirituality

I happened across this blog a few days ago and have had some interesting discussions with Staci since.

We discussed the panel at BlogHer called Beautiful Blogging and Positive Posting which, obviously, I did not attend but the idea captured my attention.

How we use blogs is important. The panel sounded inspirational and full of great ideas, women connecting with each other about how they can make the world a better place with their words.

I've tried to do that here - not always with rousing success because I'm human and sometimes I just need to complain - but there's something to be said for making an effort. :) This is not about trying to be perfect but instead about recognizing the beauty in imperfection. It's the Wabi Sabi element, the fact that we are all united impermanence and imperfection, if nothing else - Our lives are not perfect.

At first, I was reluctant to take on the 'positive' label because all too frequently, that really means "put the rug over the ugly stuff and pretend it's not there". As a dissident and a fairly aware human being, I can't and won't do that. In this case though, there is an open acknowledgment that suffering is real. It is our response to it that matters. It is our willingness to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering that matters.

One Plus Two Jen wrote this comment last night: and sometimes it's more dangerous, sitting by and watching others suffer and not doing anything, like we do every day by our actions in allowing others to suffer from poverty, homelessness, etc. what about that silence?

It's all about micro and macro. When the unacceptable is acceptable in the micro, it becomes acceptable in the macro. If we are ugly to each other, backbiting and nasty in small ways, it's easier to become callous to the larger issues. If we can be indifferent to each other as individuals, it's easier to become indifferent to groups and to the world at large. Stream to river to lake to ocean.

So here's an opportunity to use our words to heal rather than wound. We can choose to use our forums (blogs - whatever) to promote good ideas, things that inspire, things that make us want to be better people and we can change thinking. We can change the world by sharing ideas, making plans and acting cooperatively.

I'm in.

If this is something you would be interested in exploring further, please visit Staci's site and leave a comment for her.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is Silence Complicity?

The discussion yesterday got me to thinking about something. QT made a statement that kept me in thought most of the day. She said: [...]You say actions speak louder than words. Well, what is interesting about this comment is that the words of others can sometimes paint you with the same brush simply because you are an acquaintance of that person. I am a firm believer in free speech. I don't believe it is MY job to police what others say.[...]

I fundamentally agree with this. Completely. I believe we are all responsible for our own actions and our own words. No one else is accountable for what we say or do. We are. Alone.

Taking this completely out of the realm of what we were discussing yesterday, I thought of two events that have taken place in my life during the past week.

The first event was on the phone. I was having a long conversation with someone I don't talk to often. She kept using racial slurs. I asked her politely to stop.. the first time. The second time I told her that there is no room in my life for such talk and that if she didn't stop, I would end the call.

The second event was perhaps a week ago - or so. I sat in a group of people who put down another group of their same ethnicity but different nationality. It would be comparable to Irish-Americans putting down German-Americans. In that case, I did nothing and said nothing.

So much of this stuff is situational and I recognize that. What I'm interested in exploring is the notion of complicity. Because I sat there in the group and said nothing, does that make me complicit in prejudice? Because I said something during the privacy of my phone conversation at home, does that make me less complicit?

Coming from the basic position that I am not responsible for anyone else's words or actions other than my own, at what point did or do I have a duty to say something? Or do I have that responsibility at all? I know I'm not a racist. I know I don't use racial slurs. Does it stop there?

And is it right for others to assume that I feel similarly, just because I sat there in that group meeting or because I didn't immediately hang up on the person I was talking with at home?

It's an interesting dilemma. What would you do in similar circumstances? What are your thoughts?


Tomorrow (Friday), I have a celebration at the wat and then another long meeting afterward. It's going to be really hot that day and I wish it could be another time. Ever since I had shingles, my heat tolerance is zero to nil. Still, I have to be there. That means I won't be here. So.. I'll see you all Saturday or Sunday. Put out a positive thought for us that it won't be another Showdown at the OK Corral and that it will run smoothly, that we can resolve all these "issues".

See you then!

Oh.. one more thing: I will be having a guest poster here soon. Stay tuned!

Have a good couple of days. Feel free to chew the fat with each other in the comments section if you like. :)

One more thing. I am cleaning up my blog roll. I've gotten rather lazy about it since Google Reader came about. I am removing the folks who no longer come around - or those I no longer read - and those who haven't posted in eons. If you'd like to check it out, make sure you are on it if you want to be - or you would like me to add you, please go here and leave a comment. Thanks. :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Keeping It Real...

This has been an interesting couple of days. I heard a lot and have read a lot of public posts about BlogHer and the events that took place there, both the good and the bad. It brought something to mind.

BlogHer is not something that would interest me. While I like and admire plenty of people whose sites I read regularly and would enjoy meeting them, the marketing aspect would be a real turn-off. I don't want to know "tricks" to make my readership increase and as I've said many times in the past, there will never be an ad on this site.

If my readership grows, I want it to be because people like what I have to say, are challenged by what I say - or even disagree with me but find my thoughts worth the two or three minutes it takes to read a post.

I don't like the idea of promoting consumerism in any form or fashion, especially when it's framed in the notion of community, friendship and fun. The whole thing feels slimy. My stomach couldn't handle it. I'd be heaving buckets before the first day ended.

The things I was told about, some of the group dynamics, some of the things that happened, upset me horribly. Even though I am fairly assertive and opinionated, I'm not heartless.

Some people went with open hearts and open minds and were hurt as a result. They were hurt by unbecoming behavior that smacks of unresolved high school issues. The idea is repugnant. We're all adults here - and we know right from wrong. We know how to treat other people. We know about civility and we know about kindness.

And I will take a stand when it's necessary, even if it pisses someone off - which I inherently hate doing. Sometimes we have to defend what's right. We have to keep it real, even when that isn't the easiest or most expedient option. Even when it's risky.

The Wellness Wednesday application of this is that I don't believe we can feel whole - or clean - or integrated - if we don't take a stand for the things we know are right. As the old country song says You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything.

In the final analysis, it is behavior, not words, that shows what we're really made of. If you know what's right and choose to do what's wrong, that's a testament to personal character. If someone knowingly tries to elevate themselves at the expense of another, that is a testament of personal character. "Mean girls" are not cute or funny. They're just mean. And I find them disgusting and incredibly boring. Carrie Bradshaw wannabes just need to grow up.

Those who deal with me.. here or personally... need to know who I am. I want you to know what I stand for, what I believe. I want to be trustworthy - and I can't do that unless I always tell the truth. No matter what.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From me to you....

If you want to enlarge this, click on it.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Cutting Through the Bullshit....

Eckhard Tolle talks about the boxes we put ourselves in and the false identities we accept. It starts at birth, he says, with a name. We are assigned a name.

As time goes on and we venture into the world, we are put in other boxes that define us and we are then locked into them as we accept them as part of our identity.

When I was very young, I was put into the box, especially in my school experience, as the outsider, the one who wasn't chosen for baseball teams - as the one who sat alone.

At home, I was put into the box of "black sheep", the one who was assigned that role in the family.

I bought it. For a long time. Without even consciously realizing it, I totally bought the ticket. I lived it.. even when objective evidence showed it was wrong and no longer fit.

After a seven-hour meeting at the wat on Friday, I came to realize exactly how much I'd allowed my identity to be wrapped up in those old roles, those old beliefs, those old beliefs that were in place to serve the agenda of the people who surrounded me.

I've been challenged by my work at the wat in many ways. The primary one was to assume my logical role ~ that of natural leadership and strength.

It started rather innocently. One member and the lead monk got into a screaming match. (Yes, a Buddhist monk was hollering and carrying on like a 14-year-old boy in the locker room whose manhood was questioned. It was a disgusting scene.. but not the subject of this post - at the moment.) The woman who argued with him was naturally offended and got very emotional. She picked up her things and said to me, "Let's go." She was my ride but I wasn't prepared to go because nothing was resolved.

In an instant, almost as though someone outside of me was controlling me, I stood up and said, "Stop the bullshit. Both of you. Stop it now!"

I asked M if she honestly believed the monk wasn't listening to her because he doesn't "like" her. That was her statement. "He doesn't like me or respect me so he's not listening."

(Keep in mind that most of this interaction took place between them in a language I don't understand. I just heard a lot of yelling, squealing and other kitty cat noises.)

Everyone there looked at me. I had their attention. I said to M, "get someone to translate for me. If you legitimately think he isn't listening because he doesn't like you, then I'll talk to him."

The stakes are rather high in this whole mess. I can't go into the details but it is serious.

She dilly-dallied around and half-heartedly looked for someone who would translate for me. She was very invested in her identity of not being liked, therefore unheard. Her identity as a victim was more important than solving the problem.

I finally found a guy to translate and put all the cards on the table for everyone to hear. One of my rules for these kinds of meetings is that everyone's on the same page. No backchannels. No phone calls. Here it is. Look at it. Everyone at the same time. Paraphrased, I said "this is what's happening and these will be the results. If that's what everyone wants, say it now ~ because I'm hot, sick and I don't have the energy for any more nonsense."

Usually, I hem and haw and don't speak my mind so freely because I am trained to live up to my assigned false identity. No one will listen to me. No one cares what I have to say. It doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do.

As naturally as breathing, I extemporaneously came up with a plan of action and by the time I was done, everyone agreed. It all seemed rather logical to me, a legitimate solution - and to this moment, I'm not sure how I came up with it. I'm not trying to paint myself as the shero who saved the day or even will be able to fix it. The truth is that it probably won't be fixed. It won't be fixed because of group dynamics and people who choose their false identities over their authentic selves.

What I'm trying to get across is that when I got home, I did a mental inventory of all the times I've been involved in something and organically ended up in the same role. I was the one who spoke the truth that others were unwilling to speak. I took charge when no one else had the guts, the energy or the desire to do so.

And it is so consistent with who I am on the inside. It felt like a deep breath. I've been told by others that I am an exhorter. I am the one who is willing to rip open the facades and show was exists behind... and the wizard really is just a regular guy - just like us.

We're all like the wizard in so many ways. We live behind the curtain... manipulating and creating or accepting false images that serve us, one way or another.

I'll bet that everyone who reads this post right now would find some interesting things, looking at ourselves naked. Once stripped, we'd see the energy, the personal power, the strength that lays buried behind that Plaster of Paris mask we create - or has been created for us.

Try it. You'll like it. I'll be interested to hear what you have to say.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday on Friday: Weekend

In a recent conversation with someone, my thinking was reframed. I saw something differently than I'd ever seen it before and in its own weird way, may be the answer to one of the things I've grappled with for a long time.

Whether you call it "fellowship" as the Christians do ~ or "sangha" as Buddhists call it, we all need community.

Community isn't something that western culture does well. Statistically, people like me who are divorced, middle-aged and without children, often find themselves horribly alone in the world. To varying degrees, I've definitely felt the effects of it. After a week or two of what seems like vast emptiness, I begin to feel depressed and hopeless. There's also a certain shame attached to it. It's not something that can be openly discussed with others because the automatic assumption is that I am simply unworthy of companionship. (This is a global statement ~ that is assumed about anyone in the same position, not just me.)

I admit to engaging in some blaming. If only the culture was different, I wouldn't be feeling this. If I was in Thailand, it wouldn't be this way. If only people I know would be willing to make a bit more effort and be a little more thoughtful, I wouldn't feel this way. If only....

An offhanded remark by a friend in Thailand, someone whose perceptions I trust beyond measure, completely changed my mind on all of this.

He said, "now that you know how you suffer, it is your responsibility to make sure others don't suffer similarly."

The truth is that I have resources some people in my position don't. I'm rather fearless about going into new situations and am also generally accepted whenever I do. Since I have a strong personality, I usually end up in a leadership position in most of the things I do. Looking back historically, that's just the way it works out.

That isn't true in corporate situations where I find my light dims to nothing. That is because of the dynamics and the ethics involved. I would be unwilling to give my energy to that kind of effort. Historically, I have not done well in those situations and if anything have felt totally repressed. On the other hand, in volunteer activities ~ those with a social service focus ~ I've done very well.

Most recently at the wat, it took about a month for me be appointed to a leadership position.

I suspect this all has to do with being in alignment with our passions, the things we really care about. I couldn't give more than a spit about commerce.

Back to the topic - isolation - I began thinking about what I can do to make sure others don't suffer similarly.

I decided to engage the wat in some interfaith volunteer activities. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most people either work full time and can't give any of their time and/or a language barrier, I am the logical one to do the work. I began to look around for volunteer opportunities that would be consistent our values and at the same time, provide a way for the wat to get more public exposure.

Even though I will be the one doing the work, it is the wat that will be listed as the contributor.

The first thing I found was a dinner for the hungry offered by a Catholic church that is less than a mile from my house. I can walk there. I called and asked if they could use a volunteer to help feed people, clean up or serve. Naturally, the answer was 'yes'. They never have enough people.
They serve once a week on Wednesday evening. They typically draw a few hundred people. The volunteer requirement is a commitment of two hours a week, doing whatever needs to be done.

That's not the only opportunity available but it is the one I've chosen initially. I know my own limitations and can't have too many commitments without the risk of burning out. My health issues are a legitimate concern and I don't want to commit to things and end up not living up to it.

Twice a week will be my initial limit and it will expand as I determine it is possible.

This seems to be a step toward alleviating suffering that I have experienced. This is a very sound principle in my opinion. If you suffer in any particular area of your life, do something to make sure others don't suffer similarly.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I got to thinking about why it seems that I am such an odd bird.. and have some difficulty finding commonality with others at times. It would be easy to put it in a little box and say "cultural values" but that's really not it. Culture is certainly a common set of beliefs and a way of life - but people are still individuals within that frame. All culture does is help to at least create a baseline - a foundation.

I began writing a list - the things that draw me to others, that make me want to know them better and things that seem to immediately push me away.

1) When I ask "how are you", tell me the truth. I'm really interested or I wouldn't ask.

2) Express your opinions and own them. My intellect is big enough to accept all kinds of viewpoints. If you are open to it, we can discuss. If not, I'll just listen.

3) Don't try to impress me with accomplishments. You won't succeed. I couldn't care less. The only thing I care about is the merit of your ideas and the nature of your character.

4) Don't "double-talk". In other words, don't try to manipulate me. As soon as I sense that, I want to get as far away as possible.

5) Keep your word. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there.

6) Be kind. Don't say nasty things about other people. Don't wish ill-will on others - even if it's George Bush. No schadenfreude. If you take pleasure in the pain or misfortune of others, I simply can't be around you.

7) Listen as well as talk.

8) Kreng jai. Have a considerate heart.

9) Let me do things for you without immediately placing a price tag on it and figure you have to do something of equal value for me. Different things mean different things to different people. Don't keep score.

10) If I do something wrong, tell me. I'll listen and be open. For gosh sake, don't just disappear. There is nothing more crazy-making than someone who doesn't have the courage to tell me. I will never be able to trust you again.

So those are the top things on my list. I didn't bother to put things like "please take a shower occasionally" because I figure that's obvious. :)

What's at the top of your list? What will push you away or draw you to others?


As an aside, just in case you'd like to read a great blog, Charles Eisenstein (the guy I've been raving about for the past several months) has started one. I recommend it highly!


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday: Learning from Birds...

"The witnessing soul is like the sky. The birds fly in the sky but they don't leave any footprints. Man who is awakened lives in such a way that he leaves no footprints. He is without wounds and without scars; he never looks back -- there is no point. He has lived that moment so totally that what is the need to look back again and again? He never looks ahead, he never looks back, he lives in the moment."


If it seems that I pound this message a bit more than necessary at times, here's why:

I see the suffering caused by striving, craving, desiring, wanting, ego gratification as the motivator, people pressuring themselves to be someone other than who they are and accepting nearly-impossible standards to meet. Having to be more, be better, never good enough, never enough, own more, strive more, want more. More, more, more!

I read messages and talk with people - perfectly lovely people - whose lives are made miserable by the stress of it. I see cancer and disease that is caused by it. I see families destroyed by it. I see relationships weakened by it.

It hurts me to see so many people being so damaged by a way of life that leads nowhere. Since that particular bug never bit me, I see it from this objective point of view and it's like watching a train wreck, unable to stop it - unable to do anything to prevent the carnage.

It probably seems to many that I should get over the need to communicate this, to emphasize this message. Leave it alone and let people learn their own way. Let it go. Perhaps when I'm too old to care that will evolve on its own, but there are times now when it feels like the weight of this is on my shoulders. That's been my burden. I've always felt the weight of the world on my back.

If I was going to die in the next ten minutes, I'd get on the roof and yell, "for God's sake, slow down! In the end, none of this striving is worth it. Slow down. You are okay. Just as you are. You are beautiful. You are a part of The Whole. You are in harmony. Just as you are. Watch the birds. Learn from the birds."


Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekend: Names

As I've been sitting here doing a few things, Tyra is on in the background. Today she is discussing names and automatic reactions people might have to hearing certain names. Ethnic names, names that may indicate a certain socio-economic status and names that "fit" a certain type of person.

Most of us already know all of that. What interests me is how many people choose their own names. I know several people who have chosen their own names because the ones they were given didn't feel right to them. Gloria to Jamila, Sakhone to William, Linda to Astra - It goes on and on.

My name was chosen by someone else who is not related to me. Chani is a diminutive for Chanakarn which means "darling of all the people." Clearly the name doesn't fit but the purpose of the name is to draw that to me. It is supposed to bring a more outgoing spirit to me so that perhaps one day I will be "darling of all the people."

The origin, obviously, is Thai and came about because I am an extreme Thaiphile who identifies with that country and culture. I feel very connected to it. It rings true inside of me.

I wasn't content to have it as a nickname. I chose to legally change it. The name I was given at birth truly doesn't fit me and I feel no connection to it. When I was divorced, I didn't choose to go back to my birth name. I still use my ex-husband's last name.

Knowing all of this, I don't pay much attention to names in terms of guessing something about someone because of their name, although I understand many still do.

It's often seemed logical to me to have a naming ceremony for children and allow them to choose their own names at a certain age. While names are mostly window-dressing, it's still nice to have one we choose and feel good about.

I'm curious to know: If you chose a name for yourself, what would it be?


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Hot Town Part II

Looking at this picture makes me feel cooler.

It's a week-long heatwave here ~ again. It is over 105 degrees with two more days of it expected. At night, it doesn't really cool off substantially enough to give us much relief.

So of course we use the air conditioner.

There was a time when we didn't have air conditioners in homes the way we do now. So what should someone do who doesn't have air conditioning?

I began thinking about this. When I was a kid, hot summers were hot summers and we had to find a way to live with it. Since I'm from Southern California, we spent most of our time at the beach or in the pool.

Still, there was a method to keeping the house cool and I wanted to post about it because there are some people who don't have the luxury of an indoor cooler.

You can create an ersatz swamp cooler with a tray of ice and a fan. It works quite well. We used to do that especially when we would visit my grandparents in New York. Their house was large with a staircase that split half way up to the second floor. They would place a large dishwashing tub full of ice on a table and place a standing fan behind it. The cool air would blow upstairs and down. They would also put one in the living room which is where we spent our time. Sometimes they would buy bags of ice at the liquor store and other times it would be an actual block of ice.

The fans ran all night, with or without ice. It helped to have the air moving.

We used to drink cold lemonade and spend time running through the sprinklers. (There's no reason adults can't do the same thing. :)

We would eat simple light foods that required no cooking. Fresh vegetables or perhaps a peanut butter sandwich.

We would wear cool, loose clothing that would help keep us cool, too. It was the only time I ever saw my grandfather in his underwear. It's not a memory I hang on to for dear life, by the way. When it's hot though, who cares? He certainly didn't!

It would be interesting to hear your ideas. What do you do to stay cool when you can't use the air conditioner?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tuesday afternoon....

Last Tuesday, I got an unexpected call from someone I know from the wat. She told me she wanted to get together to discuss something we are working on and that we would do it over at someone else's house.

Because I'm very literal, I figured that's exactly what would occur. We would talk about the issues and then everyone would go their own way.

I should have known differently! We ended up spending the whole evening together. We cooked, ate, looked at fabrics, talked about different things, listened to mor lum music together and generally relaxed.

It was a wonderful way to spend the evening.

Here's the funny part though. At one point, the woman who brought me (I'll call her Mary) and the host's husband (I'll call him John) began a rather animated discussion in Lao. It doesn't bother me when they do that. I just sit there and wait until they're done.

Mary turned to me and said, "How old are you again?" I told her.

They returned to their animated conversation.

She translated it for me later. It went something like this:

John: She doesn't have a husband?

Mary: No. She's single.

John: Oh, that's not right! We have to find a good man for her! A woman shouldn't be alone!

Mary: Chani doesn't date. She hasn't had very good experiences with men in this country. They all just want to go to bed with her.

John: Oh, I do not know men like that! I know good men! We'll find someone for her! A good man! I don't want her to be lonely!

Now ordinarily, I would be irritated by a conversation like that. It feels kind of... intrusive. Yet John said all of this with absolutely no guile, no ill-intent, with complete innocence, and it was obvious he only had my best interests at heart. He was looking out for me, like an older brother.

Somehow it seems rather touching and sweet that he would want to find someone for me in his community, someone to keep me from being lonely.

It also felt very inclusive.

I felt embraced.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday: Symptoms of Inner Peace

A moment for a short interruption: I have just spent the past two hours reading this blog and have been left with such an incredible sense of peace - and harmony. I found the blog because I was blog-surfing and happened upon Jen's which also directs her readers to the same site.

I am left with the feeling one gets when they've been in the presence of something profound in the simplicity of her message. She was a woman who lived fully, loved completely and gathered a lot of wisdom along the way. I realize that many people don't have the inclination to read a new blog for two hours so here's the post that sums it all up, a lot of wisdom from a young woman who left us far too soon.


This kind of says it all. Imagine for a few minutes what it would be like to adopt this way of seeing things. Sounds rather pleasant, doesn't it? I could write an entire post on each one of these but will spare all of you the eye strain. :)

1. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears of past experiences.
2. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
3. A loss of interest in judging other people.
4. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
5. A loss of the ability to worry.
6. Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
7. Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
8. Frequent episodes of smiling.
9. Letting things happen instead of forcing things to happen.
10. A willingness to be vulnerable and show emotions.
11. A giving and receiving of love without strings attached.

Author unknown

Hope everyone has a peaceful Sunday. Do something, think something or be something beautiful today.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review: The Shack...

Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.
-Jean Jacque Rousseau

I am a latecomer to this book. Apparently, it was quite the buzz a few months ago but since I am not really a follower of pop culture, I didn't hear about it until I was randomly perusing blogs and someone mentioned it. It is called "The Shack" by William P. Young.

It's a challenging book on several levels. It is the story of a man who loses his daughter to a serial killer. In a rather odd twist, he one day receives a mysterious note in his mail box, encouraging him to return to the shack where the killing occurred. It is signed "Papa".

Knowing that is his wife's chosen name for God, he thinks someone is either playing a cruel joke on him or he has, indeed, received a communication from God.

It blew me away! From beginning to end!

Here's a little sample from the book:

"Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us [theTrinity], only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or 'great chain of being' as your ancestors termed it. What you're seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours."

"Really? How so?" [Mack]

"Humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that people could work or live together without someone being in charge."

"But in every human institution that I can think of," (Mack says), "from political to business, even down to marriage, is governed by this kind of thinking. It is the web of our social fabric."

"Such a waste," said Papa (God), picking up the empty dish and heading for the kitchen.

"It's one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you," Jesus said. "Once you have a hierarchy, you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you."

"Well", said Mack sarcastically, sitting back in his chair. "We sure seem to have adapted pretty well to it."

Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) was quick to reply, "Don't confuse adaptation for intention, or seduction for reality."

".... So, then, we've been seduced into this preoccupation with authority," Mack asked.

"In a sense, yes," Papa said, ".... I'm just looking out for you, son."

Sarayu continued, "When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to each other. Others became objects to be manipulated or managed for your own happiness. Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want."

This is one of the first books I have ever read by a western author who engages absolutely no cultural propaganda, no trite spiritual salve. It is challenging and often disturbing. It requires much of the reader, mainly an open mind and an open heart.

At the same time, it is a very readable bridge between spirituality and religion. It reads like a fast-paced novel. Although some have claimed the writing is amateurish, I found it to be very good. The conversations Mack (the father in the story) has with God (who presents as a plus-sized Black woman) are filled with light, hope, spiritual truth and redemption. You have to read it to believe it.

So.. if the recommendation of a Christian book from a Theravada Buddhist has any significance, I recommend it. Highly!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Boredom

I don't believe it is our nature to be bored.

This topic came up several weeks ago and I've actually had to think about it for a while to realize where it comes from.

People who were acculturated to a certain way of life often complain of boredom, the absence of external stimuli to keep their minds busy. They depend on technology, on other people's ideas and commercial items to keep them connected. There's an inherent fear attached to being too quiet with our own thoughts and feelings. If we do it too long, we might come to realize something is wrong and that we may need to change the way we're living.

In feeling boredom, I've noticed two things came up for me prominently: anxiety or impatience. Living a way of life in which I am required to view myself as separate from others and nature leads to anxiety and fear, the feeling that we are all really alone in this earthly voyage. When we forfeit interdependence for security and control, we feel alone. Being alone is scary. Wanting that to not be so creates impatience because it is so unsatisfying. Being separate and alone wounds us. To avoid confronting it, we depend on things outside of ourselves to keep us occupied. When there isn't anything instantly available, we complain about being "bored".

Looking at it another way. that you and I are not separate, we are all in this life together and share commonalities, that we are not "apart from" nature and other people, has freed my mind from boredom. I am free to let my mind wander without external input and can be still for quite a long time.

An experiment would be interesting. Try sitting still with your own thoughts for ten minutes. Just ten minutes. Turn off the phone, turn off the TV, don't read a book or look for anything outside of your own thoughts.

What does it feel like? Do you feel antsy? Why?