With the COVID-19 pandemic in the world continuing, people dying every day, millions having lost their jobs, growing chasms between rich and poor, global warming, Nationalism, children in cages, obvious racial injustice in the U.S. with the killing of George Floyd, and much, much more — for centuries of injustices, it is easy to despair.
However, Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul: the journey beyond yourself presents profound ways to see and – perhaps to feel hope in change.
In Chapter 18, “The Secret of the Middle Way,” Singer notes, “From science we know that if you pull a pendulum thirty degrees to the right, it will swing back until it’s thirty degrees to the left. You don’t need Lao-tzu to tell you this. All the laws are the same –inner laws and outer laws. The same principles drive everything in this world. If you pull pendulum out one way, it will swing back just that far the other way. If you’ve been starving for days, and somebody puts food in front of you, you won’t be polite while you’re eating. You will shove the food into your mouth . . . [N]either extreme can last. How long can a pendulum stay at one of its outermost positions? It can only remain there for a moment. How long can a pendulum stay at rest? . . . Extremes are good teachers. When you examine the extremes, it’s easy to see the effects of imbalanced behavior patterns” (167-168).
I’m trying to find hope in that pendulum image.
In this time of “deep pause,” let’s reflect on how the pendulum of injustice, inequity, harm to our Earth, other species, and peoples have resulted in the continuing suffering we have today.
By shining light on where we actually are in this swing that shows disaster in almost every direction, we must work together make changes in our systems and laws.
“Where Do We Go From Here?” asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This excerpt from one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. last speeches before he was killed notes: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love, implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Speak) And this is what we must see as we move on.
Now what has happened is that we’ve had it wrong and mixed up in our country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through love and moral suasion devoid of power, and white Americans to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience. . . . . It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times. . . “
Let us shine lights on inequity and suffering everywhere in the world. Let’s care for one another and act to live in harmony and balance. May our pendulums, wherever we are, swing in new directions – directed by love and respect and care for all. Imua! [Forward!]
Other photos by RR.
If Librarians Were Honest – by Joseph Mills
If librarians were honest,
they wouldn’t smile, or act
welcoming. They would say,
You need to be careful. Here
be monsters. They would say,
These rooms house heathens
and heretics, murderers and
maniacs, the deluded, desperate,
and dissolute. They would say,
These books contain knowledge
of death, desire, and decay,
betrayal, blood, and more blood;
each is a Pandora’s box, so why
would you want to open one.
They would post danger
signs warning that contact
might result in mood swings,
severe changes in vision,
and mind-altering effects.
If librarians were honest
they would admit the stacks
can be more seductive and
shocking than porn. After all,
once you’ve seen a few
breasts, vaginas, and penises,
more is simply more,
a comforting banality,
but the shelves of a library
contain sensational novelties,
a scandalous, permissive mingling
of Malcolm X, Marx, Melville,
Merwin, Millay, Milton, Morrison,
and anyone can check them out,
taking them home or to some corner
where they can be debauched
and impregnated with ideas.
If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can.
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Thanks, Darlene, for sending this poem to me.
Hope you are learning much from the books you read.
Banner photo: Dollar Gill
Remembering Brian, an artist and handy guy – who died Saturday on Maui. An African-American kid, Brian got put in the U.S. Foster System in the South when he was eight — and survived. He had a hard life — but he has been living on Maui and so I like to think his life was better at least in some ways. I don’t think he was 50. He had some health issues and some medical insurance coverage — but it wasn’t good. All U.S. citizens (actually everyone around the world) deserves excellent health care (also clean water, nutritious food, and a secure place to live).
Brian’s death and our global COBID-19 pandemic make a book I’m reading seem particularly meaningful right now: Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. The Pema Chödrön Foundation describes her as: “Beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother, Pema Chodron has inspired millions of people from around the world who have been touched by her example and message of practicing peace in these turbulent times.”
- Image from: <https://pemachodronfoundation.org>
Chapter Nineteen from When Things Fall Apart seems most pertinent now:
“Three Methods for Working with Chaos
The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move toward difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this kind of encouragement very often.
We practice to liberate ourselves from a burden—the burden of a narrow perspective caused by craving, aggression, ignorance, and fear. We’re burdened by the people with whom we live, by ongoing daily situations, and most of all by our own personalities.
Through practice, we realize that we don’t have to obscure the joy and openness that is present in every moment of our existence. We can awaken to basic goodness, our birthright. When we are able to do this, we no longer feel burdened by depression, worry, or resentment. Life feels spacious, like the sky and the sea. There’s room to relax and breathe and swim, to swim so far out that we no longer have the reference point of the shore.
How do we work with a sense of burden? How do we learn to relate with what seems to stand between us and the happiness we deserve? How do we learn to relax and connect with fundamental joy?
Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.
There are three traditional methods for relating directly with difficult circumstances as a path of awakening and joy. The first method we’ll call no more struggle; the second, using poison as medicine; and the third, seeing whatever arises as enlightened wisdom. These are three techniques for working with chaos, difficulties, and unwanted events in our daily lives.
The first method, no more struggle, is epitomized by shamatha-vipashyana [tranquility & insight] instruction. When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it ‘thinking,’ and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath. Again and again, we return to pristine awareness free from concepts. Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions, or moods. This basic instruction is a tool that we can use to train in our practice and in our lives. Whatever arises, we can look at it with a nonjudgemental attitude.
This instruction applies to working with unpleasantness in its myriad guises. Whatever or whoever arises, train again and again in looking at it and seeing it for what it is without calling it names, without hurling rocks, without averting your eyes. Let all those stories go. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. That’s just the way it is.
This is the primary method for working with painful situations—global pain, domestic pain, any pain at all. We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.
It’s like inviting what scares us to introduce itself and hang around for a while. As Milarepa sang to the monsters he found in his cave, ‘It is wonderful you demons came today. You must come again tomorrow. From time to time, we should converse.’ We start by working with the monsters in our mind. Then we develop the wisdom and compassion to communicate sanely with the threats and fears of our daily life.
The Tibetan yogini Machig Labdrön was one who fearlessly trained with this view. She said that in her tradition they did not exorcise demons. They treated them with compassion. The advice she was given by her teacher and passed on to her students was, ‘Approach what you find repulsive, help the ones you think you cannot help, and go to places that scare you.’ This begins when we sit down to meditate and practice not struggling with our own mind.
The second method of working with chaos is using poison as a medicine. We can use difficult situations—poison—as fuel for waking up. In general, this idea is introduced to us with tonglen [Tibetan for ‘giving and taking’ (or sending and receiving), and refers to a meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism].
When anything difficult arises—any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful—instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in. The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down and close out). We would usually think of these poisons as something bad, something to be avoided. But that isn’t the attitude here; instead, they become seeds of compassion and openness. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in—not just the anger, resentment, or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation.
We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame—it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.
We are told from childhood that something is wrong with us, with the world, and with everything that comes along: it’s not perfect, it has rough edges, it has a bitter taste, it’s too loud, too soft, too sharp, too wishy-washy. We cultivate a sense of trying to make things better because something is bad here, something is a mistake here, something is a problem here. The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move toward difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this kind of encouragement very often [my emphasis].
Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but it’s actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up. We can use everything that occurs—whether it’s our conflicting emotions and thoughts or our seemingly outer situation—to show where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservations.
So the second method is to use poison as medicine, to use difficult situations to awaken our genuine caring for other people who, just like us, often find themselves in pain. As one lojong [mind training] slogan says, ‘When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.’ That’s the notion engendered here.
The third method for working with chaos is to regard whatever arises as the manifestation of awakened energy. We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred. Traditionally the image used for regarding whatever arises as the very energy of wisdom is the charnel ground. In Tibet the charnel grounds were what we call graveyards, but they weren’t quite as pretty as our graveyards. The bodies were not under a nice smooth lawn with little white stones carved with angels and pretty words. In Tibet the ground was frozen, so the bodies were chopped up after people died and taken to the charnel grounds, where the vultures would eat them. I’m sure the charnel grounds didn’t smell very good and were alarming to see. There were eyeballs and hair and bones and other body parts all over the place. In a book about Tibet, I saw a photograph in which people were bringing a body to the charnel ground. There was a circle of vultures that looked to be about the size of two-year-old children—all just sitting there waiting for this body to arrive.
Perhaps the closest thing to a charnel ground in our world is not a graveyard but a hospital emergency room. That could be the image for our working basis, which is grounded in some honesty about how the human realm functions. It smells, it bleeds, it is full of unpredictability, but at the same time, it is self-radiant wisdom, good food, that which nourishes us, that which is beneficial and pure.
Regarding what arises as awakened energy reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to smooth things out and pretty them up, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things. This view turns that particular pattern completely around, encouraging us to become interested in looking at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.
Often in our daily lives we panic. We feel heart palpitations and stomach rumblings because we are arguing with someone or because we had a beautiful plan and it’s not working out. How do we walk into those dramas? How do we deal with those demons, which are basically our hopes and fears? How do we stop struggling against ourselves? Machig Labdrön advises that we go to places that scare us. But how do we do that?
We’re trying to learn not to split ourselves between our ‘good side’’ and our ‘bad side,’ between our ‘pure side’ and our ‘impure side. The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That’s what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.
In terms of everyday experience, these methods encourage us not to feel embarrassed about ourselves. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s like ethnic cooking. We could be proud to display our Jewish matzo balls, our Indian curry, our African American chitlins, our middle American hamburger and fries. There’s a lot of juicy stuff we could be proud of. Chaos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.
The world we find ourselves in, the person we think we are—these are our working bases. This charnel ground called life is the manifestation of wisdom. This wisdom is the basis of freedom and also the basis of confusion. In every moment of time, we make a choice. Which way do we go? How do we relate to the raw material of our existence?
These are three very practical ways to work with chaos: no struggle, poison as medicine, and regarding everything that arises as the manifestation of wisdom. First, we can train in letting the story lines go. Slow down enough to just be present, let go of the multitude of judgments and schemes, and stop struggling. Second, we can use every day of our lives to take a different attitude toward suffering. Instead of pushing it away, we can breathe it in with the wish that everyone could stop hurting, with the wish that people everywhere could experience contentment in their hearts. We could transform pain into joy.
Third, we can acknowledge that suffering exists, that darkness exists. The chaos in here and the chaos out there—this is basic energy, the play of wisdom. Whether we regard our situation as heaven or as hell depends on our perception.
Finally, couldn’t we just relax and lighten up? When we wake up in the morning, we can dedicate our day to learning how to do this. We can cultivate a sense of humor and practice giving ourselves a break. Every time we sit down to meditate, we can think of it as training to lighten up, to have a sense of humor, to relax As one student said, ‘Lower your standards and relax as it is’” (119-125).
May our struggles help us see more clearly and grow in compassion and love. We will miss you, Brian.
Banner photo by RR – neighbors Melinda & Gary’s tree
” Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one,” says Gloria Steinem.
One of the advantages of self-isolation is that I’m not dashing around as usual and so am getting to enjoy some cooking, reading, and reflecting. Recently, I read Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road, a book that has been on a shelf for a few years. I loved much about the book – and of course, the woman, who has learned much from being open and observant as she has moved about the world.
One section in particular was really interesting to me; Steinem writes about Hillary Clinton:
“As long as I’ve been campaigning, I’ve heard two Questions: ‘When will we have a woman president?’ and ‘When will we have a black president?’
Ironically, the 2008 primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which gave us the chance for both, was the best contest in terms of candidates and the worst in terms of conflict.
I kew Hillary Clinton mostly in the way we all do, as a public figure in good times and bad, one who became part of our lives and even our dreams. I once introduced her to a thousand women in a hotel ballroom at a breakfast in New York City. Standing behind her as she spoke, I could see the Whiite House binder on the lectern with her speech carefully laid out–and also that she wasn’t reading from it. Instead, she was responding to people who had spoken before her, addressing activists and leaders she saw in the audience, and putting their work in a national and global context–all in such clarity and graceful sentences that no one would have guessed she hadn’t written them in advance. It was an on-the-spot tour de force perhaps the best I’ve ever heard.
But what clinched it for me was listening to her speak after a performance of Eve Ensler’s play Necessary Targets, based on interviews with women in one of the camps set up to treat women who had endured unspeakable suffering, humiliation, and torture in the ethnic wars within the former Yugoslavia. To speak to an audience that had just heard these heartbreaking horrors seemed impossible for anyone, and Hillary had the added burden of representing the Clinton administration, which had been criticized for slowness in stopping this genocide.
Nonetheless, she rose in the silence, with no possibility of preparing, and began to speak quietly–about suffering, about the importance of serving as witnesses to suffering. Most crucial of all, she admitted this country’s slowness in intervening. By the time she sat down, she had brought the audience together and given us all a shared meeting place: the simple truth.
So when she left the White House and decided to run for the U.S. Senate from her new home in New York State–something no First Lady, not even Eleanor Roosevelt, had dared to do–I was blindsided by the hostility toward her from some women. They called her cold, calculating, ambitious, and even ‘unfemiinist’ for using political experience gained as a wife. These were not the right-wing extremists who had accused the Clintons of everything from perpetrating real estate scams in Arkansas to musrdering a White House aide with whom Hillary supposedly had an affair. On the contrary, they mostly agreed with her on the issues, yet they were so opposed to her that they came to be called Hillary Haters. It took me weeks of listening on the road to begin to understand why.
In the living rooms from Dallas to Chicago, I noticed that the Hillary Haters often turned out to be the women most like her: white, well-educated, and married to or linked with powerful men. They were by no means all such women, but their numbers were still surprising. Also they hadn’t objected to sons, brothers, and sons-in-law using family connections and political names to further careers–say, the Bushes or the Rockefellers or the Kennedys–yet they objected to Hillary doing the same. The more they talked, the more it was clear that their own husbands hadn’t shared power with them. If Hillary had a husband who regarded her as an equal–who had always said this country got ‘two president for the price of one’–it only dramatized their own lack of power and respect. After one long night and a lot of wine, one woman told me that Hillary’s marriage made her aware of just how unequal hers was.
In San Francisco and Seattle, I listened to self-identified Hillary Haters condemn her for staying with her husband, despite his well-publicized affairs. It turned out that many of them had suffered a faithless husband too, but lacked the ability or the will to leave. They wanted Hillary to punish a powerful man in public on their behalf. I reminded them that presidents from Roosevelt to Kennedy had affairs, but the haters identified with those First Ladies and assumed they couldn’t leave. It was Hillary’s very strength and independence that made them blame her. When I tried describing the public condemnation Hillary would have suffered had she abandoned her duties in the White House for such a personal reason, this changed the minds of some–but not many.
Finally, I resorted to explaining my own reasons for thinking the Clintons just might be, in Shakespeare’s phrase, ‘the marriage of true minds.’ I had seen them together for a long afternoon during a White House ceremony for recipients of the Medal of Freedom. One medalist was my friend Wilma Mankiller, chief of the Cherokee Nation. She and I were both struck by the obvious connection between the Clintons as they walked from one group of awardees and their families to the next, talking to guests and each other. In a roomful of interesting people, they seemed just as interested in listening and talking to each other. What they were sharing, I don’t know, but what was clear was their intimacy and pleasure in each other’s company. Of how many long-married couples could that be said?
Yet when I brought this up, some Hillary Haters became even angrier. Many were longtime wives and others were new wives replacing older ones, but the fact that Bill valued Hillary as an equal partner–and vice versa–seemed to make them more aware that their own marriages were different. It dawned on me that if a sexual connection is the only bond between a husband and wife, an affair can make her feel replaceable–perhaps cause her to be replaced. This was not only emotionally painful but devastating when it also meant losing social identity and economic security as well. I began to understand that Hillary represented the very public, in-your-face opposite of the precarious and unequal lives that some women were living. In a classic sense, they were trying to kill the messenger. . . .
As my own part of her Senate campaign, I began to invite Hillary Haters to the living room events were Hillary herself was fundraising. To my surprise, all but a few turned around once they had spent time in her presence. This woman they had imagined as smart, cold, and calculating turned out to be smart, warm, and responsive. Instead of someone who excused a husband’s behavior, she was potentially, as one said, ‘a great girlfriend’ who had their backs.
They also saw her expertise. For instance, George Soros, the Hungarian -born financier and philanthropist, introduced her in his Manhattan living room by saying, ‘Hillary knows more about Eastern Europe than any other American.’
After she was elected to the U.S. Senate on her own merits, she worked constructively even with old enemies there, and was solidly reelected to a second term. I began to hear the first serious talk of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. By the time the election of 2008 was in the wind, she had a higher popularity rating than any other potential candidate, Republican or Democrat. . . .
It wasn’t campaign season yet, but wherever I went, from campuses to living rooms, questions about the possibility of a new kind of president were being raised.
Though Obama was younger, with less national, international, and Senate experience than Hillary, I still thought it was too soon for the country to accept a woman commander in chief. Moreover, Obama’s Kenneyesque appeal created a rare and precious chance to break the racial barrier. But to me, their shared content was way more important than different forms. She was a civil rights advocate. He was a feminist. They were a modern-day echo for the abolitionist and suffragist era, when black men, black women, and white women–the groups white male supremacists had worked so hard and cruelly to keep apart–turned this country on its head by working together for universal adult suffrage.
Whenever I was on the road before the primaries, I saw a revival of this unconscious coalition in audiences that were interested in politics as never before. There was an enthusiasm for these two new faces that stood for a shared worldview. In audiences from very blue states to very red ones, support was more like a Rorschach test than a division by race and sex. For instance, 94 percent of black Democrats had a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, compared to an 88 percent favorable view of Obama. After all, he was new on the national stage and the Clintons had earned a reputation for racial inclusiveness that caused African American novelist Toni Morrison to famously call Bill Clinton ‘the first black president.’ Both white and black women were more likely than their male counterparts to support Hillary Clinton–and in my observation, also more likely to believe that she couldn’t win. Male and female black voters were more likely than white voters to support Obama and also to believe he couldn’t win. Each group was made pessimistic by the depth of the bias they had experienced.
Some mostly white audiences seemed to hope this country could expiate past sins by electing Obama. As one white music teacher rose in an audience to say, ‘Racism puts me in prison, too–a prison of guilt.’ Many parents of little girls, black and white, were taking them to Clinton rallies so they would know that they, too, could be president. Older women especially saw Hillary Clinton as their last and best chance to see a woman in the White House. And not just any woman: as one said, ‘This isn’t just about biology. We don’t want a Margaret Thatcher, who cut off milk for schoolchildren.’ They wanted Hillary Clinton because she supported the majority interests of women. On the other hand, many young black single mothers said they supported Obama because their sons needed a positive black male role model. A divorce white father told me that Obama’s life story had inspired him to drive hundreds of miles to see his son every week. ‘I don’t want to be the father Obama almost never saw,’ he explained. ‘I want to be the father he wished he had.’ In Austin, Texas, an eighty-year-old black woman said she was supporting Hillary because ‘I’ve seen too many women who earned it, and too many young men who came along and took it.’
But the press, instead of reporting on these shared and often boundary-crossing views as an asset for the Democratic Party–after all, Democratic voters would have to unify around one of these candidates eventually–responded with disappointment and even condescension. They seemed to want newsworthy division. [my emphasis – Doesn’t this seem too familiar? Running up to the Democratic Primary these last few months, we have had a wonderful crowd of smart, passionate, experienced, heart-centered Democratic candidates]. Soon frustrated reporters were creating conflict by turning any millimeter of difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama into a mile. Since there was almost none in content, they emphasized ones of form. Clinton was entirely summed up by sex, and Obama was entirely summed up by race. Journalists sounded like sports fans who arrived for a football game and were outraged to find all the players on the same team.
It dawned on me that in the abolitionist and suffragist past, a universal suffragist movement of black men and white and black women also had been consciously divided by giving the vote to black men only–and then limiting even that with violence, impossible literacy tests, and poll taxes. Now, this echo of divide-and-conquer in the past was polarizing the constituencies of two barrier-breaking ‘firsts,’ never mind that the candidates were almost identical in content. As in history, a potentially powerful majority was being divided by an entrenched powerful few” [my emphasis] . . .
In making my list about the pluses and minuses of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I discovered I was angry. I was angry because it was okay for two generations of Bush sons to inherit power from a political patriarchy even if they spent no time in the White House, but not okay for one Clinton wife to claim experience and inherit power from a husband whose full political partner she had been for twenty years. I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like — well, young women. I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children–and all the male candidates who didn’t;t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost just because it was born into a female body, and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. And I was angry because the media took racism seriously–or pretended to–but with sexism, they rarely bothered even to pretend. Resentment of women still seemed safe, whether it took the form of demonizing black single mothers or making routine jokes about powerful women being ball-busters.”. . .
As my last campaign effort, I made hundreds of buttons that said:
HILLARY SUPPORTS OBAMA
SO DO I
. . . All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one” [[my emphasis] (157-171).
Gloria Steinem stories from the road and her insights are very relevant now. While you are staying home to stay healthy, read about Gloria’s surprising encounters and insights in My Life on the Road. And get involved in the coming elections. Democracy needs your actions, your voice, and your vote.
And what more can you be doing to help make this a sustainable, more just, even more awesome world?
Book cover from: <https://www.amazon.com/My-Life-on-the-Road>
This small book, F**K Plastic: 101 ways to free yourself from plastic and save the world by Rodale Sustainability offers excellent tips to make us more conscious of what we are doing — and want we can do.
Recently, I bought new clothes pins to hang up laundry that wouldn’t be going into the dryer. Good, you might think. But I looked at the prices and bought the cheaper plastic ones. Many have already broken. If I’d read this book sooner, those plastic clothes pins would not have been my choice.
Some of the tips in this book aren’t a surprise: Tip #17, for instance, is “Pick loose fruit and veggies” – “Don’t bother with the avocados that come two in a pack, or the bell peppers the come in threes, or the shrink-wrapped broccoli. Especially don’t bother with the half portions of cucumber you now find in supermarkets which come shrink-wrapped and then packaged in another layer of plastic. Opt instead for the veggies that are loose in trays, and–if you can-also buy from places that shun sticky labels” (24).
Some of the tips are surprises: #26 Say Goodbye to Gum.
“Have a guess how many pieces of gum are made in the world each year.
If you happened to say 1.74 trillion, [www.chewinggumfacts.com – accessed on 05/23/2018] give yourself a pat on the back. Now have a guess what most chewing gum is primarily made from. That’s right: a type of plastic. Pass the mints” (p. 33).
Some of the tips are ways of looking in new ways: Tip #15 Swap potato chips for doughnuts
“Yes, we’re serious! Sure we all know avoiding both the doughnut and the chips would be better for our health (pft), but if you’re going to reach for a treat anyway, make it a loose baked product like a doughnut or cookie over a bag of chips or cookies. Many of the latter are packaged using layered plastic material, which theoretically could be recycled but a lot of the time isn’t due to the cost. Loose baked products on the other hand are totally fair game” (p. 22).
The book is filled with useful hints. The introduction asks: “Plastic, what’s the big deal?”
“Plastic still remains a pretty great invention–syringes, hip replacements, protective helmets, your laptop, my phone, that car. Let’s be honest–plastic ain’t going nowhere. But that’s the problem in a nutshell–all the single-use plastics we buy each day without realizing ain’t going nowhere either. A plastic carrier bag is used on average for 12 minutes [www.biologicaldiversity.org accessed on 05/23/2018] — but it’ll still be here in 100 to 300 years. The water bottle you picked up at lunch could still be here in 450” (p. 1).
Tip #89 Be mindful
“Look after your things! It’s as simple as that. Look after your phone; look after your headphones; look after your hair ties; look after your stationery; look after every item you own that contains plastic. The better care you give it, the less you will need to replace it and the less plastic that ultimately ends up bin a landfill or the sea” (103).
Read this book: There is lots to be done. We can each be part of the solution.
P.S. Thanks for lending me this book, Joy. N.
It’s so easy to judge people and countries and policies. Often we don’t have the complete story to make a balanced assessment; often situations are more complex than they seem.
Since 2003, I’ve gotten to go to China four times – first as a traveler and then to teach English at two universities there, so I’ve seen first-hand the results of the Chinese one-child policy. And I’ve liked it: each child is a treasure.
Each child is given all the attention and the support that his/her parents and grandparents can lavish on each. The results – from my perspective – are excellent. The children are wanted. They know their parents love them and each feels wanted and especially the boys feel needed.
The Chinese boys know that they will be responsible to take care of their parents, grandparents and if the girls have a good relationship with their parents, the young married man will be expected to care for her parents and grandparents too. Until recently in China, there has been no government support or pensions for seniors. Because there are so many people in China (one billion more than in the U.S.), factory workers are required to retire at 45, professional women at 55 and professional men at 60. These retirees each needs a well-educated son (or son-in-law) who has a good, well-paying job to take care of all of them.
When I asked one of my 19-year-old students would he agree to an arranged marriage, he said, “Yes, of course, my family wants the best for me.”
In the four times I was there (including once for a wonderful 12-month stretch), I can remember seeing only three instances of parents being mean to their children:
- A 10-year-old girl (in a designer dress) crying because her mother was yelling at her for having a poor grade.
- A three-year-old boy (getting into things as boy’s do) behind his father’s kiosk being yelled at harshly by his dad.
- Kids being screamed at in a park — by a Western father.
I learned a lot from my Chinese students each needing to write or say interesting things for their grades. Chinese students love and respect their parents and grandparents. I heard no whining or complaining about how badly they had been treated or how hard their lives were. From the hundreds of students I had there, I had only one essay that made me cringe and the girl wasn’t complaining just reporting on the results of her own bad behavior. The girl was supposed to be taking care of her pet bird; she wasn’t doing a good job of it; she’d been warned. She came home one night to find that her mother had cooked the bird for dinner!
And now, also at least in part because of the one-child policy, there is no starvation that I saw or heard of in China! Some of their current favorite dishes I think reflect back to the childhoods of my students’ parents and grandparents when food was very sparce: fish head soup (that’s it – the whole head with eyes in a broth); chicken claws; duck tongue . . .).
Now even the vegetable dishes like spicy eggplant have a bit of pork on top.
I’d heard that families were penalized by the government if they had more than one child. Micky, one of my cheerful students in China, was born to his family within two years of his older sister’s birth, which was against the law at that time, so the government destroyed his family’s furniture – something the family was certainly willing to give up – since Micky is a boy.
I’d heard of the forced abortions, but hadn’t seen evidence. Then, the friendly Chinese woman who was our secretary in the English Department of the university where I was working got pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled. She’d had a couple of miscarriages, so she was particularly hopeful. But when she went in for a routine checkup at five months, her doctor discovered something wrong with the fetus – and aborted it! She was devastated. It was explained to me that the government had to take such action since there are so many people in China; they don’t have the resources to pay for known birth defects of a child that will likely require special care for a lifetime. Also, the woman is still young and likely to be able to have a healthy baby in the future. Although sad, I could understand the reasoning behind the government’s action.
And repeatedly, I saw that the Chinese value what is best for the whole; not the individual rights that we cherish in the U.S. The Chinese I met actually have faith in their government and their leaders to create a better life and future for the Chinese citizens. Once while I was there, I wanted to protest about the unlit, dangerous access to the college while construction was going on. My students just laughed and said, “Ms. just wait. It will get fixed.” And they were right. When we came back from winter break, the road was safe, and no one had had to make an issue of it.
However, last week, Barry and I saw the documentary One-Child Nation (Available on Netflix – “From award-winning documentarian Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, I Am Another You) and Jialing Zhang, the sweeping One Child Nation explores the ripple effect of this devastating social experiment, uncovering one shocking human rights violation after another – from abandoned newborns, to forced sterilizations and abortions, and government abductions.”
The documentary showed photos of the dumped bodies of fetuses and infants — likely all girls. A family shared their story of taking their newly born girl by dark to the next town and leaving her on a counter in the market in hopes that someone would take her. No one did. The infant died right there a few days later where she had been left. She was a girl. At the time, no one could have more than one child without grave penalties by the government. Some people who had more than one child had their house destroyed.
There were pictures of what the documentary said were women trussed up like pigs in mattresses; they were pregnant, had been kidnapped, and lined up to be sterilized. I can’t imagine the life-long trauma that would result for women who had suffered kidnapping and a forced abortion/sterilization — by their neighbors!
In the documentary, abortionists talked about how they had been doing the work of their beloved government that was trying to stop starvation in China. Some of those workers said that even now, they still feel pride in what they did. Others have had moral doubts. One woman who had done thousands of abortions said a monk told her that for every couple that she now helps with their infertility, the birth of a baby atones for 100 of those past forced abortions.
Today, China allows most couples two children. However, most families now choose to have only one since the cost is so great to support and educated each child. Also, if the child they already have is a boy, the parents will also be expected to help the second boy buy an apartment at least before any girl will consent to marry him. The girls today, at least the ones in university, say they are the lucky ones.
The exception is that minority Chinese (non-Han, which are only five percent of the total Chinese population) such as the Uyghurs can have as many children as they want. Wonderful, you may say, but I don’t think so. I think it is a way to keep the minorities down; they must apportion all their resources among their children – or at least their boys, not pour everything they have into their treasured one child.
Even such a source as Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men,” Mma Ramotswe, owner of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, in the quite civil Botswana notes, “They [some men & women, the government, ministers . . . – not the pregnant women ], of course, did not have bear the children; they did not have to carry the babies around on their backs for the first few years; they did not have to attend to the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute needs of the baby, and yet they could have very strong views on the subject of babies” (p. 164).
Who should decide? The government? The woman involved?
And in general, what can be done to help people look at their unexamined traditions and make positive changes themselves instead of being forced?
Melinda Gates in The Moment of Lift notes how getting cultures to change from within (not mandated nor forced) is being done in some countries where female genital mutilation and early child marriage for girls have been the tradition. For the past 20 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have used their foundation to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs. . .
[It’s important to address the] incentives strongly favor[ing] early marriage. And every year a girl doesn’t marry, there’s a greater chance that she will be sexually assaulted—and then considered unclean and unfit for marriage. So it’s also with the girl’s honor and the family’s honor in mind that parents often marry their girls young, so they can avoid that trauma.. . .
[The] heartbreaking reality . . . is that girls are forced into the abusive situation of child marriage to protect them from other abusive situations. The World Health Organization says that one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused.
Gender-based violence is one of the most common human rights abuses in the world. It’s also the most obvious and aggressive way men try to control women—whether it’s rape as a tool of war, or a husband beating his wife, or men in workplaces using sexual violence or bullying to belittle women who are gaining power. . . .
In the case of early marriage, the social options of girls are so constrained by the culture that parents who marry off their girls often believe they are doing the best they can for their daughters and families. That means that fighting child marriage by itself isn’t enough. We have to change the culture that makes child marriage a smart option for the poorest families . .
Melinda Gates reports, “It’s important to be able to save [10- or 13-year-old] girls from marriage, but it’s more important to address the incentives that prompt parents to marry off their underage daughters in the first place.
A Quiet Hero
Molly Melching has spent her life proving that point. Molly is another one of my teachers. . . . she showed me one of the best approaches I’ve ever seen for challenging long-standing cultural practices. . . .
Molly . . . [came] to Senegal as an exchange student [from the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana] to refine her French in the 1970s. She quickly fell in love with the Senegalese people and culture—so much so that she decided to learn the local language, Wolof, as well.
Even while she loved the country, though, she noticed how difficult it was to be a girl there. Many girls in Senegal have their genitals cut very young —usually between 3 and 5 years of age. Many are married very young and are encouraged to have children quickly and often. Outside groups had tried to change these practices, but no one succeeded, and Molly found herself in a position to see why.
She became a translator for development programs, serving as the link between villagers and outsiders who wanted to help. She quickly saw that there was more than a language barrier dividing these two groups. There was an empathy barrier. The outsiders showed little skill in projecting themselves into the lives of the people they wanted to help, and they had little interest in trying to understand why something was being done in a certain way. They didn’t even have the patience to explain to villagers why they thought something should change.
. . . Molly explained to me that the empathy barrier stymies all effort in development. Agricultural equipment that had been donated was rusting out, health clinics were sitting empty, and customs like female genital cutting and child marriage continued unchanged. Molly told me that people often get outraged by certain practices in developing countries and want to rush in and say, ‘This is harmful! Stop it!’ But that’s the wrong approach. Outrage can save one girl or two, she told me. Only empathy can change the system.
That insight prompted Molly to launch an organization called Tostan and develop a new approach to social change. No one from her organization would tell a villager that something they were doing was wrong or bad. In fact, Molly told me that she never uses the term ‘female genital mutilation’ because it’s heavy with judgment, and people won’t listen to you if you’re judging them. She uses ‘female genital cutting’ because it doesn’t offend the people she wants to persuade.
The Subtle Art of Change
Tostan’s approach is not to judge from there outside but to discuss from the inside. Trained facilitators fluent in the local language live in the village for three years and guide a community-wide conversation. They host sessions three times a week, several hours each, and the process begins by asking people to come up with their ideal village, their so-called Island of Tomorrow. Everything Tostan does is geared toward achieving the future the villagers say they want.
To help the villagers achieve that future, facilitators teach about health and hygiene. They teach reading and math and problem solving. And they teach that every person has fundamental rights —to learn and to work, to have their health, to voice their opinions, and to be free from discrimination and violence.
These rights were far from reality even where they were being taught—particularly in communities where a woman speaking in public was considered a ‘good reason’ for her husband to hit her. The idea that men and women were equal seemed absurd. But over time the women could see how certain changes —men doing ’women’s work,’ women earning an income—were moves toward equality, and those changes were helping. People were healthier. More of them could read. Maybe there was something to this idea.
After lessons on fundamental rights and the equality of men and women, the class started talking about women’s health. It was taboo to even talk about female genital cutting —a practice they considered so old and sacred it was simply called ‘the tradition.’ Even so, the facilitator laid out its health consequences, including the risk of infection and hemorrhaging. She was met with stony silence.
At the next class, however, the village midwife raised her hand and stood up. Her heart racing, she said she’d seen firsthand how women who were cut had more difficult births. Then other women started sharing their stories, too. They recalled the pain it caused them when they were cut, the way their daughters lost so much blood, the deaths of some girls from hemorrhaging. If all girls had a right to their health, wouldn’t cutting violate that right? Was it something they had to do. They debated intensely for months. Finally, they decided that when the time came to cut their daughters that year, they wouldn’t do it. . . .
As Molly recalls, ‘We were witnessing something so significant—the act of people coming together to collectively reflect on their deepest values, to question if current attitudes and behaviors were, in fact, violating those values. . . .
But if the other villages kept the practice of female genital cutting and insisted on it for marriage, then the village Molly was working with would be isolated; its young people might find no marriage partners, and they’d probably return to the practice. Somehow, all the villages had to agree—none could change all alone.
The imam in the village and Molly discussed this worry, and he said that change needed to happen. ‘I will get this done,’ he said. . . .
He convinced all the villages to abandon female genital cutting—all together and all at once. In that region of Senegal, parents no longer faced a choice between cutting their daughters or forcing them to live as outcasts.
The movement quickly spread to other villages, and even other nations—led in large part by villagers whose lives the program had touched. Before long, people were questions other harmful practices, too.
In one Senegalese village where Tostan [a Wolof word; the English translation is ‘breakthrough’] had created a program, parents had forced their daughters to marry when they were as young as 10. People there began talking in their Tostan class about how early marriages were affecting girls. . . .
Today, 8,500 communities where Tostan works have promised that girls will not become child brides. According to Tostan, more than 3 million people in eight nations have said that they will no longer practice female genital cutting” [my emphasis] (p. 162-168).
Go to <https://www.tostan.org> to see more of what Tostan: Dignity for All is accomplishing.
And what’s happened to the Chinese one-child policy? Although it is now legal to have two children, most are happy with one child. They have assessed the costs, the reality of two working parents, the need to use their resources to the best in to one child instead of dividing the assets. The Chinese seem to have made that change from within now. Each couple is deciding themselves. 🙂
I’ve reassessed my glowing appraisal of the Chinese one-child policy now that I’m clear about what the government did to the women and babies. However, I still think the Chinese have very valued children.
We could use Tostan types of group discussions wherever we live. We too could consider and then work toward our ideal communities. What unexamined traditions do we practice that don’t really support our values?
Do we really need the “God-given right” to have guns? Is it really a reflection of our values when we separate children from their parents at our border? Do we really need huge houses when many people are homeless and many don’t have medical coverage? Is it okay to send your child to a private school since you can afford it while other children live in dangerous neighborhoods and have the least equipped schools? And really, do we need to be spending a majority of our tax dollars on the military? I’m sure you can think of other practices that would change if we had honest, inclusive discussions with everyone involved. What would you like discussed in your community? We could use Tostan facilitators everywhere in the world.
We could all be evolving to live in better ways.
“The skies were clearing, the remaining clouds scudding fast across the blue as Watergate Bay stretched endlessly ahead. We followed the beach, too fragile to face the up and down of the clifftop. The wide expanse of sand lay pristine and empty beyond the restaurants and cafés. The only person ahead came into focus as an old man with two spaniels. He stopped to speak as we passed.
‘Are you walking the coastal path?’
‘Some of it. To Land’s End a least.’
‘I’ve always wanted to do that . .. just walk for days and days.’
‘Then do it. Just pack a rucksack and do it now. You never know how long your fetch will be–depends on the wind'” (p. 129).
From: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
“The uplifting true story of the couple who lost everything and embarked on a journey of salvation across the windswept South West coastline. …” Google Books
What do you want to do? Start now. Aloha, Renée
Today as I was volunteering and getting to share the latest in humpback whale information at the Maui Ocean Center, one group – a mom and her four daughters – seemed particularly interested. Most people at the Ocean Center come to see the many beautiful fish and other sea creatures, and I get to say a few facts as they pass by. But for this particular group, I got to tell about why the humpbacks don’t eat while they are in Hawaii, how the male humpback whales have the most complex acoustical display of any in the animal kingdom, and more. Since I could hear a slight accent, I asked the mom and girls where they were from — Saudi Arabia! Uncovered, unescorted, all speaking English well (and of course, Arabic, and they are learning French); the mom says that the women drive; the girls are learning guitar too, and tomorrow, they are taking hula lessons at their hotel. The mom said that life in Saudi Arabia isn’t really as it is portrayed in the news. I asked if they were afraid of traveling in the U.S. They said, “No.” They are having a wonderful time and find everyone friendly. They see the sensational news as just the news. I would have loved getting to know them.
That seeking out of people, especially ones from cultures much different than his own is what Rick Steves shares in his book Travel as a Political Act, which offers many significant insights. For instance, in describing his time in Iran, Rick Steves notes,
“It’s not easy finding a middle ground between the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Axis of Evil.’ Some positions (such as President Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust) are just plain wrong. But I don’t entirely agree with many in my own government, either. Yes, there are evil people in Iran. Yes, the rhetoric and policies of Iran’s leaders can be objectionable. But there is so much more to Iran than the negative image drummed into us by our media and our government.
I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our differences. Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones. Just like my country, Iran has one dominant ethnic group and religion that’s struggling with issues of diversity and change–liberal versus conservative, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious. As in my own hometown, people of great faith are suspicious of people of no faith or a different faith. Both societies seek a defense against the onslaught of modern materialism that threatens their traditional ‘family values.’ Both society are suspicious of each other, and both are especially suspicious of each other’s government.
When we travel–whether to the ‘Axis of Evil’ or just to a place where people yodel when they’re happy, or fight bulls to impress the girls, or can’t serve breakfast until today’s croissants arrive — we enrich our lives and better understand our place on the planet. We undercut groups that sow fear, hated, and mistrust. People-to-people connections help us learn that we can disagree and still coexist peacefully.
Granted, there’s no easy solution, but surely getting to know Iranian culture is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, even the most skeptical will appreciate the humanity of 70 million Iranian people. Our political leaders sometimes make us forget that all of us on this small planet are equally precious children of God. Having been to Iran and meeting its people face-to-face, I feel this more strongly than ever” (p. 192-193).
Wherever you are, find someone of a different culture–listen, reflect, and learn. Talk to people with accents; you are likely to be glad when they share something of their lives.
If you can’t go traveling tomorrow, get Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act.
Happy traveling; happy reading. Aloha, Renée
Banner photo: Rick Steves with schoolgirls in Iran.
Call Me by My True Name
–by Thich Nhat Hanh (Jul 13, 2015)
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
On March 23, 2017, President Trump signed the permit approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline – where Native American led protests, says Wikipedia, have united environmental groups, citizens, and politicians over the potential negative impacts of the Keystone XL project. The main issues are the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and 17% higher greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of oil sands compared to extraction of conventional oil.
On that day, Mekasi Camp Horinek, a member of the Ponca Nation, told reporter Alleen Brown:
“I want to say thank you to the president for all the bad decisions that he’s making — for the bad cabinet appointments that he’s made and for awakening a sleeping giant. People that have never stood up for themselves, people that have never had their voices heard, that have never put their bodies on the line are now outraged. I would like to say thank you to President Trump for his bigotry, for his sexism,
[for his attacks on our environment, for his support of gun rights over the rights of our children to be safe in schools, for his attacks on immigrants – in this country that is filled with people whose ancestors came as immigrants, for snubbing our Allies and becoming cozy with ruthless dictators, for celebrating hate and disrespect, for filling the pockets of the richest from the suffering of the poorest, . . .]
for bringing all of us in this nation together to stand up and unite”
From: Naomi Klein’s NO IS NOT ENOUGH: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, p. 190-191.
Let’s stand together and VOTE on November 6th.
Aloha, in light and action, Renée