Sunday, October 17, 2010

visiting Thich Nhat Hanh's Monastery

I didn't mean to segue into a film review, after only a sentence about the Blue Cliff Monastery, so at a moment when I should be transcribing tapes for an editing session, I'm returning here, for a very brief second post.

A week ago, exactly, I went there -- out of need. I confess. NYC housing woes, which can be bitter, necessitated I find a place where I could be anonymous where the atmosphere would be right for getting out of my head.

So I fled to the Blue Cliff Monastery last Sunday, hoping that a roomful of shaved, cool heads, simply meditating, or simply being, or being simply, would help to calm my own overheated brain. They were there, as I'd imagind! Speaking in heavily accented English, this group of robed monastery leaders was calm, devoted, purposeful, un-neurotic, and seemingly un-troubled. There were young monks too, maybe 10 years old, but as seemingly calm as the rest.

I see that deep mauve I described whenever I think of them -- as all the monks were swathed in long layers of mauve. And as I'd hoped they would be, deep beneath the mauve robes and ritual, chimes and schedule, they were caring. The last came through the minute I walked into this very spacious empty hall. The first words I heard were from Thich N Hanh himself (on CD) In halting, accented phrases, that I at first had to strain to make out, they seemed to be mind reading. In other words, they hit their mark.

"If you're angry towards someone

[yes?! I'm listening]

that's not good for you! It's not good for them! It's not healthy! His voice was emphatic. Though I had just raced through the doors, a good half hour late, I was caught up in what he was saying, as though I'd run into an invisible net.


You should start thinking about lighter, more joyful things.


So I did try. I recall it was much easier said than done. But slowly, like lifting a very heavy box, I tried to shift, just a little, my thinking onto more 'joyful things.' I can't begin to remember what these thoughts were, or if I was even the tiniest bit successful.

We were given a snack after this lengthy talk, which I had begun to focus on almost exclusively having run out of the apartment at 7, with little to eat, and raced up the thruway, trying to access googlemap on my smart phone. I don't think snack thoughts counted as "happy thoughts" though. Then, the most charming part of the day -- our calm, organized caring leaders handed out little yellow song books and we stood in a circle in the crisp fall air and all sang. This is what we sang.
I like the flowers I love the daffodils I like the mountains I love the rolling hills I like the fireside When the lights are high  bom di ada, bom di ada, bom di ada, bom bom di ada, bom di ada, bom di ada, bom  I like the flowers I love the daffodils I like the mountains I love the rolling hills I like the fireside When the lights are low
Picture four or so demure and organized, super-competent Vietnamese monks -- along with us, a divers group of visitors -- getting into "bom diada, bom di ada, bom diada , bom...

Friday, October 15, 2010

I went to a monastery

I went to Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery last weekend and was uplifted by the simplicity of the monks in their long mauve robes -- whoever picked the color of their robes is to be commended. But the spirit doesn't move me to comment on it all today. (Though simplicity and Being Here Now? Heartily recommend them.)

Don't want to write about this Monastery though becuz. The dreaded New Yorker's curse -- housing woes -- has befallen us, and until we see our way through it, I will be a curmudgeonly New Yorker -- grumpy, mindlessly eating, doing all the self-defeating things one does when the world isn't going the way you're sure it should. Can't say that mindlessly eating is all that bad, though....

But I can recommend a wonderful wonderful documentary, which is just making its way into the theaters nationwide (in the U.S), having finished its New York run, literally, last night. I suffered a parking ticket in order to get to the last screening of said run. The film is Budrus, about a non-violent protest by a Palestinian village (Budrus) against the punishing route of the dividing wall. (You know, the tall security wall Israel is constructing, which in many cases is encroaching on Palestinian farms? This process no matter how you look at it makes no sense. What purpose is there in cutting into land, appropriating it, when there's literally no reason to? No settlers were going to land there, no bases set up. It looked like nothing other than a land grab I'm afraid. And I'm not a flaming radical, just in favor of basic human rights. OK, here goes. I wasn't going to post at all today, and here I am discussing my views on the Middle East? Keeping a blog is a lot like life. Ya never know.

My idea of a protest for Middle East sanity is to set up a lemonade stand, raising quarters to send to Palestinians who aren't getting their day in court to secure a housing permit. I would like to see children raise money for their lawyers the same way they have been admirably raising money for the refugess of Darfur. Raising $100 in quarters and sending a check in an envelope to some reputable non-profit organization. This matter is a civil rights matter -- I mean, it's really very basic. Simply allowing someone to use their own land the way they choose. Talk about housing woes. I have no business comparing our situation with that of the palestinians, I know. Here I am with our mortgage paid on a leafy block of Brooklyn. But, that said. (Just kidding. I sound like a Daily Show skit) But why won't the friggin' co-op board grant us their approval!??? We're just like the Palestinians on the West Bank --

But the film. Back to the incredible film. Budrus was shot by multiple people -- anyone, actually who happened to be there as the bulldozers roared in and soldiers with guns appeared, and smoke grenades were flung about and a small agricultural village was gradually occupied, anyone who and had a camera, a cell phone, whatever and started recording the events that transpired, pitched in to tell the story that became this film. So, this included the residents of Budrus -- women too which when you see the film, you'll see why this was such a big deal. The women went out to face the Israeli soldiers FIRST, and that was very key. And it included a host of international supporters, and Israeli soldiers who shot video and turned it over to the filmmakers, and Israeli citizens sympathetic to the townspeople of Budrus, of course Palestinians, Hamas folk professing nonviolence and even :-) the film crew of Budrus

It's a Gandhian story of civil rights prevailing. It's lions lying down with lambs like you wouldn't believe. David vs. Goliath retold. It's a must see!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Notes from the Ground

As promised, notes from a trip out to Patchogue on Saturday, organized by our local "chapter" of OFA, Organizing For America. If that sounds so unexciting, so "establishment" so - - and you're saying instead, what's next - - now that Obama's in, and by the way, not all that great. If you're thinking that, really, get over it. OFA, Obama's people, are doing god's work. If you were to ask me, what's the most important thing a citizen of the USA could be doing right now, at this very minute, I'd say ' canvassing for the progressive candidate in your vicinity.' I say this knowing full well what a pain it is doing this -- walking up to doors of strangers, wondering whether there'll be an old man in an undershirt, or a woman screaming, attempting to get a restraining order on her "old man," a police car idling at the curb. Or a German woman whose husband was a veteran.... (We came across all three) It's a little nerve wracking, I"ll be the first to admit it. I can't go up to someone I don't know at a party of a friend, so wandering around a neighborhood I've never been to, 50 miles from home, that predictably votes Republican, makes you swallow hard.

But it is what's necessary. Really really necessary if you want to keep the House and Senate in at least moderate hands. If you want to keep the incumbants in and give right wing opponents a real run for their money, so that they know who their constituents REALLY are.

So we disembarked at Patchogue, and were given our candidate's buttons and (literally) our marching orders. We split up, each small group of two or three to a volunteer local driver. Our driver had a talking GPS so we didn't get too lost, as we tooled through the suburban streets out to Mastic Beach, a neighborhood of mostly converted beach houses (we were a spit away from the ocean, but no, we couldn't go canvass there. Those homes were mostly second homes.)
So we were making our way confidently, more or less. Until we were let off, when I felt very "lost," looking up at the flag of the tea-party -- a large yellow banner with a 'Don't Tread on Me' inscription -- flying on a high pole below the colonial flag, i.e. thirteen stars in a circle. Oh boy. Where am I? The GPS lady didn't warn me about this. Our list skipped over this house, stopping at about every fifth house on Alder, and leading us, in a kind of scavenger hunt, to a series of small, and middle-sized homes -- some terribly derelict, overgrown yards and some clipped painted and polished. I wished that dogs could vote, because most of the time they were the only ones home.

Al is the shmoozer. We'd been told on our last canvassing trip -- which was for Obama in '08, down to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. -- that all those graphs and charts, statistics and prognoses you'd been dutifully studying? Throw them out. People vote on character, not programs. My guess is that if I looked inward, I'd find out that it was true of me too. I swooned for Obama after reading Dreams for My Father. If you remember, there was not a single word in there about his plans to give every American health care. But I tended to forget that fact and maybe out of nervousness would launch into a little spiel about the fact that Tim Bishop had voted for the Stimulus Bill (millions of jobs, well a couple hundred thousand? But whose fault was that?! Had Obama been given the money he actually wanted... At least I didn't say a word about any of this. Many people seemed to be completely befuddled. In this case it wasn't the economy stupid) I'd add brightly 'and Bishop voted for the Health Care Bill!' which most likely was shooting my candidate in the foot. Al knew not to go there. Forget about the Health Care Bill. When the elderly unshaved man in the undershirt opened the door to say he was watching The Public Enemy an old James Cagney movie, Al was in his element. Ten minutes later, the two of them were still talking like old geezers, now at a little table on the porch, while Mr. Undershirt was filling out his voter registration form. By the time he was done, he looked up and said, the health care thing. I don't understand why people are against it. (whew)

Al went beyond dedicated. While a woman in all stages of dishevelment was ranting to a police officer, she took a breath to inform us that she couldn't talk, she was trying to deal with a problem with her "old man." Can I leave some literature for you, Al said hopefully. She shot him a please-don't-hang-around-here-a-second-longer look. Al carefully folded the pages of the literature so they'd fit behind her screen door.

A young African American woman, trying desparately to keep her toddler from galloping down the middle of the street brightened visibly when we told her that Bishop voted for all of Obama's programs. Inbetween racing after Junior and admonishing her older child, who wasn't holding onto his young brother very tightly, she flashed a smile when she heard the date of the election. November 2nd? That's the day after my birthday!

Below you'll read the message that was in my 'mailbox' this morning, from Jeanne, our 'Organizing for America' organizer. We're going to take her up on her request for at least one more day of canvassing. We want to give our new ally a nice birthday present.

Dear Friends,
Thank you again for coming out on to canvass on Saturday. Together with our Long Island colleagues, we knocked on a total of 748 doors, talked to 208 voters, and found 110 who were positive about voting for Bishop. As we discussed on the train, the real issue in this race is going to be turnout. Bishop is looking good among registered voters, but his numbers are precarious when you look only at likely voters. The advantage of getting canvassers out every weekend is that we get people to feel personally engaged (and obligated -- statistically, people are more likely to turn out to vote if they've told another person they would).

So with that in mind, I hope you'll be able to come out again on one of the upcoming canvassing trips. We're trying to get as many people as possible canvassing this coming weekend, the 16th and 17th, because the LIRR is undergoing major construction on the weekend of the 23rd/24th, so we may not be able to get many people out that weekend. And of course, we'll be making a big push on the final four days, Oct. 30-Nov. 2.

Hope to see you again soon!

Friday, October 1, 2010


. Someone once wrote that the way to make life more interesting is to "turn" from your routine as you went through your day. "Turn." Why that word I wonder? I don't know. But by 'turn,' he meant something as simple as taking a new route home from work or to and from the store or walking the dog. I thought, as I read this, 'this is the secret to life? ya gotta be kidding' But what he was getting at was that you'd see new things, you wouldn't be traveling on automatic pilot. And that this was important. Crazy thing is, he was right. Or at least it felt right last Friday. In the early evening, as I was lurching downtown on the 'F' train, I thought about calling Al (significant other) and asking if he'd like to see a movie that was playing uptown. Since you can't use your cell on the subway, I had to get out at the next stop to make a call the old fashioned way, and that stop happened to be Delancy Street, the heart of the Lower East Side, and the region of New York City that implies to anyone who's been to New York, and "turned" from the usual tourist sites, or read certain novels, the old, Turn -of -the -Twentieth Century, ethnic, Italian and Jewish (in particular) immigrant experience. I'm not sure why they picked Delancey to be decorated in original, and enormous mosaics, devoted to the sea no less, when so many of the other subway stops are grimy, even filthy, with loose or missing tiles, but somehow it happened. Ahh, I've done a little digging, literally as I was writing this. The entire collection -- on the downtown side -- is called "Shad Crossing" and it was completed by artist Ming Fay in 2004. And it's not an odd choice of theme after all. It does relate to the immigrant destination that this area used to be, as shad fish swim upstream in the spring, and so represent the tens of thousands of immigrants who travelled the ocean back 100 years or so, to make New York City their new home. I guess using a pay phone was another moment of "turning." As I dropped a quarter into the phone, I was already feeling as though I'd entered a time warp, I was already enjoying myself. And although Al had no interest in getting into the train and travelling a half hour to the theater, as soon as I hung up, I went up to the wave of tiny blues and aquas, grays, greens, whites you see here, and examined it for its minute, and incredible detail.
It was a good as a movie.