Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"DRALA" or "DRALHA"?


Poetry is the other voice. Not the voice of history
or of anti-history, but the voice which, in history,
is saying something different. - Octavio Paz


Though it is the still the end of the year, it already feels to me like the new one - these last days of 2011 are a cusp, defined as a pointed end where two curves meet, in particular. We might invent time, but the circle of our planet orbiting the sun is "real" and we are about to enter the next circle - or dreamtime - of our collective lives. 2012.

It occurred to me that this would be a good time to return to the root of this website, which is the drala principle. I came across a definition of drala from the Rigpa Shedra Wiki, the "online encyclopedia of Tibetan Buddhism."
Drala or dralha: dynamically active non-human beings inhabiting the air element, who are usually invisible to ordinary human perception... Drala may be spelled two ways: ‘drala’ and ‘dralha’. These suggest two ways in which the inner aspect can be understood. ‘Drala’ connects it to la, one of the fundamental life-forces; so it can be seen as an aspect of our life-force which functions to protect us from our ‘enemies’. ‘Dralha’ connects it to lha, ‘deity’. This term should be understood to signify simultaneously both a natural force operating in the phenomenal world, and an aspect of our own pure awareness.
This text correlates to the teaching Lord Mukpo gave on drala, though over the course of an eight-year span of periodic talks on this subject, Lord Mukpo created a matrix for our understanding that amplifies and greatly expands upon these definitions, bringing forth the "universality" - as I like to put it - of the drala experience. In upcoming posts, I will comment on this "matrix," but for now, I will share comments Lord Mukpo gave at the end of a talk in 1981 to a gathering of senior students. Here the potential or reality of "meeting the dralas" is put in the most unequivocal and personal terms, an imperative on how this meeting is really up to us.
I was hoping, quite wholeheartedly actually, quite wholeheartedly, that the drala principle would descend on you and become part of you. So far as I have seen here – maybe I have been coming at the wrong time of the day, but I have watched the things happening  here – the sadhana was poorly attended, and it was very stiff, like what we have now ("sadhana" refers to sessions of meditation with a text we had been presented with) . There was no humor.
 Usually, when you and I get together, we have some kind of fun. That is true of each of you. We always do. So that is the message: why don’t you use that kind of fun to improvise something else? I feel somewhat frustrated, myself - constipated as well. I feel that I could give you, impart to you, introduce to  you, such wonderful ladies and gentlemen of the drala principle. They are longing to meet you! At this point I’m afraid I have to be very bold: they’re longing to meet you…  Let’s actually do it, ladies and gentlemen. I have been working with you, all of you, for lots of years. So why on earth do you have to create a barrier to exclude the dralas from your life? For heaven’s sake, heaven and earth, can’t we just relax a little bit. And please, shed a few tears. That will help a lot.
 



Writings on the Drala Principle

Bonnie McCandless is a friend I met in my travels to Washington DC. Bonnie "searches for spiritual meaning in everyday life and often writes about those dark moments that deliver brightness." She has generously offered us an essay/story on the drala principle.


A NEW CHAIR
by Bonnie McCandless

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 9:45 a.m. I enter a dialysis center and, after weighing in, make my way to my chair for treatment that consists of 3 and ¾ hours of being hooked to a machine which filters the toxins out of my blood, doing the job that my defective kidneys can no longer do for themselves.  I say “my chair” because I am usually assigned to occupy the same chair every time, giving me a sense of belonging but also boredom with the same view and the same technicians sticking me, hooking me up and monitoring me for the duration.

Yesterday was different.  It was Veteran’s Day, the auspicious 11-11-11 date, a Friday before a long weekend.  As often happens on such days, I received a phone call at 7:30 a.m.  asking me if I want to come in early and I always answer yes.  So I arrived at the center at 8:30 and my usual chair was not ready for me, so I was given a different chair, which made all the difference that day.
 
As I made myself comfortable in the chair – feet up, blanket draped over my legs, blood pressure cuff on my right arm, left arm exposed and ready for sticking – I felt a warmth on my face and looked up to see a shimmer of gold across the room.  “Wow!”  I said to Jarrod, the tech at my side, “look at those trees out the window!  They look like gold coins blowing in the wind!”
 
He followed my gaze and smiled, nodding.  “Nice,” he murmured and then returned his attention to preparing my arm for the access to the machine.  First the arteriole, then the venous.  “This one down and this up?”  he asked. 

I nodded, still mesmerized by the shining trees.  Then I looked at his fingers on my arm. “No, “ I said. “The arteriole is usually sideways.” “Like this?” “Yes.”    “Ok.” “And don’t be afraid to go deep,” I urged him and returned my gaze to outside the window across the room.
 
The room was outlined on the left by chairs filled with dialysis patients like myself and on the right by nurse stations and back rooms where other staff came and went on an irregular basis.  There was a steady undercurrent of beeping from the filtration machines and a blinking of lights, each with a specific message signaling a particular need or task to be filled by the steady stream of nurses and techs.  But the activity in the room fell away to a blurred background and the gold shimmering trees moved into the foreground of my vision, almost as if they moved into the room itself to greet me.
 
In reality, the sunlight hit the leaves from the east and the wind blew the branches back and forth so they seemed disembodied from their roots and the leaves actually shook like gold coins dancing in mid air. I stared in awe at the shimmering gold which now nearly filled the room. This mystical moment was pierced by physical pain as the needle entered my arteriole access. I winced slightly but held my arm still for Jarrod to find the artery where my clean blood would flow back into my body. He poked around a bit, went a little deeper, I winced more, nearly crying “ouch” and then he stopped, satisfied that he had found the right spot. He propped up the needle shaft with rolled-up gauze and taped the entire apparatus  to my arm. I lost my distraction with the dralas and focused on the physical discomfort in my arm for a moment. Then the warmth from the golden shimmering leaves drew me back and I returned to the breath.
 
The venous entry was upwards, deep and clean. Nice draw. No pain. I closed my eyes and relaxed. When I opened them, the leaves were back outside the window and were turning red-brown-orange-yellow-green with bits of branches tying them together. The magical moment had passed and my blood was starting to process through the filtration process and return to the body, clean again.
 
I saw Jarrod glance across the room to the window and smile, and I knew the dralas had found him this morning too. Perhaps even the briefest moments of magical mystery can be transforming, even if we’re not trained to dwell in it? I was fortunate to have spent several years in Shambhala training in D.C. that built upon my chosen field of aesthetic education, but I don’t know if Jarrod has had such training.  Anyway, it has been too many years now since I’ve been a regular student of the dralas. When we’re not “in training,” I guess we need to change chairs once in a while to capture a fresh view and reconnect mood with sense experience. The problem is that I don’t know how often my drala experiences are associated so much with pleasure as with pain, or with both together?  And does it matter? What would Chögyam Trungpa say?
 
I have a grumpy old kidney doctor who visits once a month and comments on blood pressure or fluid weight gains and spouts archaic clichés about dialysis keeping us alive and we should get over our anger issues and get into a good book or play video games to pass the time.  But the physical pain of needles being stuck in my arm and the mental boredom of four hours of viewing the travel channels or cooking shows, watching the clock tick away, only to go home and take a 90 minute nap and wake up with a headache sometimes pushes my endurance to the limit. I think of my father’s experience with dialysis and his comment that he was ready to end it all himself rather than go through the excruciating anguish of being tied to a machine and how “congestive heart failure” saved him from that drastic choice, ironically suffering a heart attack in a dialysis chair and being called “code blue” from the dialysis unit and taken directly to the hospital unit, then to the morgue.
 
But I’m not my father, I tell myself. He couldn’t stand to stay indoors during a blizzard; he had to go out for his morning coffee and newspaper.  I’m not that ADHD, though I did inherit a good swath of his ocd tendencies. But I look at the faces of the patients around me – the blank stares, the open-mouthed sleepers, the readers, the TV viewers, the chatters, the game players – and I can’t help but think that if not for the dralas, each one of us is maybe a step or two away from pulling the trigger some days.  Except for those who are brought in daily on a stretcher and often taken out in a code blue, like my father; they seem half dead already.

I wonder how the dralas enter our lives when there is so much closed heart?  What if I hadn’t seen those gold leaves yesterday?  What is the limit of our endurance to sit in the same chair day after day and see the same clock ticking away?  I hear the tech Theresa giggle and it turns my head. That’s a drala speaking to me. On TV I watch a Vietnamese woman prepare a colorful steaming noodle soup in an open-air stall in Ho Chi Min City and can almost smell the scents that go along with the street noises. That’s a drala scene I am vicariously experiencing.  The social worker smiles with drala insight as she brings me good news yesterday.  I have been granted a spot in a dialysis unit near my son’s home on the Friday after Thanksgiving, so my travel plans could now be completed.  I would be able to visit with my son’s family for those few precious days – joust with my grandson, hold my new granddaughter, share stories with my daughter-in-law and be shocked once again at how much my son reminds me of his father.  I know this visit will give me a new chair’s view on a variety of drala experiences and let my moods flow again, one at a time, in and out, like my breath.  The dralas don’t always appear as gold coins in the wind, but I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be open to them whenever and wherever they arrive.




Friday, December 9, 2011

NINE MINUTES OF SILENCE


Camera. Newseum, Washington, DC

The camera above was used to shoot one of the most iconic photographs of the Vietnam war. It is also an example of camera as weapon/art as weapon. The photograph, by photojournalist Eddie Adams (see below), shows a soldier (actually a general) of the South Vietnamese army executing an alleged Viet Cong prisoner. I saw the photograph and camera yesterday, when I visited the Newseum, Washington DC's museum of news history. I was in the basement, where the photos of Adams and other Pulitzer Prize winners were on display, including another, equally iconic and horrible: a young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm is shown running in terror away from her village, naked. Those two photographs may have done as much to end the Vietnam war as any single politician or protest march. They crossed bounds of heretofore journalistic propriety and invaded America's psyche in a kind of double reverse; shaming the nation's conscience and exposing the lie that we could win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese through war. 

Yet Eddie Adams had mixed feeling about the photograph and even came to consider it an act of violence, one that injured another man in the photograph. "I killed the general with my camera," he later said. "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two, or three American people?" Adams eventually made a personal apology to General Nguyen Ngoc Loan for the damage the photograph did to his reputation. A photograph can be like a bullet. A photograph is like a poem, which lives its own life and exists, as Octavio Paz wrote, "at the expense of the poet."

Eddie Adams, Saigon Execution, 1969.
Newseum, Washington, DC


WHAT IS "OCCUPY WALL STREET"?

Occupy Wall Street flier.

This photograph, too, has become iconic - at least at this moment in history. A young woman dancer, perfectly poised on the back of the bronze Merrill Lynch bull while protesters behind her struggle with gas masks in air clouded by tear gas. Not photojournalism or cinéma vérité, but Photoshopped from someone's imagination, it somehow feels as real as the Vietnam era photographs. Not an image of innocence lost, but of its triumph, even if fleeting and on only one foot.

I went to OWS Washington DC on Saturday for what had been advertized earlier in the week as "nine minutes of silence" on December third at three in the afternoon. I arrived at two forty-five (this time with only two roasted chickens), but no one seemed to know about the silence - another expectation that swiveled into something else. Below the statue of General McPherson I joined an "education circle" of about a dozen people. The discussion was largely Marxist based; the struggle of the working class, the institutionalized use of nationalism to prevent workers of the world from uniting, and the need for racial and GLTB equality. Worn-out slogans were mixed with touching anecdotes of life as a bus driver or resident of OWS DC. The group patiently allowed each other to speak and tolerated the incessant repetitions of some of the more ideological members of the circle.

We stood on the damp grass of McPherson square without any of us having much ground to stand on and just a minute or two to dispense our own views and feelings into the mix. People looked openly at each other when they spoke. As in my experience of getting a hug in Romania, I felt I received something very needed and long overdue. In this case, a circle of people talking freely, with open hearts, about what they cared about, a transmission of civic life, essential. 

There are many ways to learn about/participate in OWS, and as I've poked around on the web or received links from someone's e-mail I have encountered what I sensed was there; a vision that is spiritually sound and somewhat unprecedented, perhaps even the arrival of "genius" as Gertrude Stein defined it; being confused because the current time is always confusing, but confused with "nowness" rather that the past, and thus able to express something new and therefore creatively apt (likewise, Lord Mukpo's definition of nowness was combining the wisdom of the past with the needs of the present moment; not copying, but seeing).

Just as our own physical or emotional pain is often an expression of something within us seeking communication, understanding, and healing, activists are often brave messengers of the pain of the "body politic" and we owe them a great deal (John Muir, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk). It's not that everyone should carry a sign or engage in civil disobedience, but our own calling is inseparable from a collective suffering or environmental damage that we could help to alleviate. A central aspect of the drala principle is that the dralas are attracted to courage, especially the courage of vulnerability, speaking one's truth, and going "beyond enemy".
At its heart, Occupy is not a protest. It’s about creating space. It’s about modeling a new way of being, that requires a fair amount of “unlearning” the way society and human nature has been taught. It’s asking the question: why? Why are things they way they are? Is it, in fact, human nature to be greedy, violent, and cruel? Or is it possible that these are symptoms of a systemic order? - Ian MacKenzie  
Below is an impressive video, directed by documentary filmmaker Ian MacKenzie, author of the quote above. The video is an articulation of the "mission statement" of OWS, as expressed by one individual, Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, who comes across as well-spoken, clear-seeing; someone possessing shinjang - a term from Tibetan Buddhism that means to be "thoroughly processed," possessing a mind adequately tamed through personal discipline, therefore clear and fully connected to the heart (for a more thorough definition, see below). I was so impressed by what Eisenstein says on this video that I transcribed it, though to really feel his message the video is essential.
 

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics.

Occupy Wall Street - The Revolution is Love 
This movement isn’t about the ninety-nine percent defeating or toppling the one percent. You know the next chapter of that story, which is the ninety-nine percent create a new one percent. That’s not what it’s about. What we want to do is create the more beautiful world our heart’s tell us is possible.  A sacred world, a world that works for everybody. A world that is healing, a world of peace.

You can’t just say, We demand a world of peace. Demands have to be specific. Anything that can be articulated can only be articulated within the language of the current political discourse and that entire political discourse is already too small. That is why making specific demands reduces the movement and takes the heart out of it. And so it’s a real paradox and I think the movement understands that.

The system isn’t working for the one percent either. If you were a CEO you would be making the same choices they do. The institutions have their own logic. Life is pretty bleak at the top, too, and all of the baubles of the rich are a kind of phony compensation for the loss of what’ really important, for the loss of community, the loss of connection, the loss of intimacy, the loss of meaning.

Everybody wants to live a life of meaning. Today we live in a money economy where we don’t really depend on the gifts of anybody but we buy everything, therefore we don’t really need anybody, because whoever grew my food, or made my clothes or built my house, if they died or I alienated them, that’s OK because I can just pay somebody else to do it. It’s really hard to create community if the underlying knowledge is: we don’t need each other.

Maybe people get together and the fraternize, or maybe they consume together, but joint consumption doesn’t create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection. You have such gifts, which are important, just like every species has a an important gift to give to an ecosystem and the extinction of any species hurts everybody.

The same is true of each person, that you have a necessary and important gift to give. For a long time our minds have told us that maybe we are imagining things, that maybe it’s crazy to live according to what you want to give. But I think now, as more and more people wake up to the truth that we are here to give, and wake up to that desire, and wake up to the fact that that other way isn’t working anyway, the more reinforcement we have from people around us that this isn’t crazy, this makes sense, this is how to live. As we get that reinforcement, then our minds and our logic no longer have to fight against the logic of the heart, which wants us to be in service.
The shift of consciousness that inspires such things is universal in everybody, ninety-nine percent and one percent. It’s awakening in different people in different ways. I think love is the felt experience of connection to another being.

An economist says, essentially, that more for you is less for me, but the lover knows that more for you is more for me, too. If you love somebody then their happiness is your happiness, their pain is your pain. Your sense of self expands to include other beings. That’s love. Love is the expansion of the self to include the other.

That’s a different kind of revolution; there’s no one to fight, there’s no evil to fight, there’s no “other” in this revolution. Everybody has a unique calling. It’s really time to listen to that. That’s what the future is going to be. It’s time to get ready for it and help contribute to it and make it happen.
.  .  .



 Shinjang - from Mangala Sri Buti website.
The experience of shinjang is like “mental endorphins”. It comes from practicing consistently. It provides mental space. We must build up shinjang to be effective, and then we must maintain it. Shinjang gives spaciousness, tranquility, clarity, and perspective of mind. There is a calm, a detachment, and a feeling of a thrill in- side to go deeper into practice. One feels pleasure with one’s mind and with one’s experience of mind at that moment. This comes up as a part of shinjang. We meditate to discover the truth. If we are meditating and yet are not connected to our heart to discover the truth then shinjang might not re- sult. One’s posture and concentration on the breath opens the channels to the heart. The heart opens and energy flows and soothes one’s whole body. The mind and heart become almost one. Then one can concentrate, penetrate (thoughts) without scatteredness, being wholly integrated. Even rising thoughts are not so disturbing. So, shinjang mind penetrates the body. Well-being comes from within and it will in- filtrate mind’s projection (i.e., the body). Shinjang affects the phenomenal world, society, one’s family and personal relationships, one’s health and the unknown future.

"Lower-archy" as "natural heirarchy"?

Lord Mukpo introduced the term "natural hierarchy" as an element of "Shambhala vision" and I am intrigued and drawn to the aptness of "lower-archy" and "horizontalism" to our time and its needs, as expressed in this excerpt from Hard Times at Occupy Boston, from The Nation:
When Occupy Boston started, John locked up the independent bookstore he runs in Plymouth, packed about half of his inventory in a truck and set up the soon-to-be-named-by-consensus Howard Zinn/Audre Lorde Library inside a military tent at Dewey Square.
Like many of the campers, John’s life before the Occupation was anything but conventional. An autodidact, John passed up college and bounced from minimum-wage job to minimum-wage job. He worked at companies he loathed like McDonald’s and Jiffy Lube and “tried to intentionally slow the process from within.” When he found that strategy ineffective, he set out on his own as a “street hustler” and eventually helped start the enormously successful (if legally shady) Yankees Suck empire, which has sold tens of thousands of T-shirts to rabid Red Sox fans outside of Fenway Park. Two of his friends from the business, Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann, used the small fortune they made to travel to Iraq in 2005. They finagled their way into jobs with the Coalition Provisional Authority and wrote a book about it, Babylon By Bus. John was inspired by their adventurism and thought about joining them but opted to hitchhike across America instead. When he returned several years later, tragedy struck. His father, a carpenter, was installing eaves on a wealthy client’s boathouse when he fell to his death. John inherited his father’s home and opened the Metacomet bookstore, named after the Wampanoag chief who led the Native American uprising against the British colonists.

John won’t say the word, but it’s clear that he’s the de facto leader of Occupy Boston. When he talks, other Occupiers listen. When problems arise at camp, people go to John. “If certain people are producing good ideas, they get noticed here. But the deference is to practicality, not personality,” says John with forced modesty. One camper told me that Occupy is less a “leaderless” movement than a “lower-archy”; power is never seized, he explained, but when you show wisdom, people grant you power, and that power can be taken away at any moment if you act irresponsibly. - Sam Graham-Felsen, The Nation.

.  .  .


WASHINGTON - A newly discovered planet is eerily similar to Earth and is sitting outside our solar system in what seems to be the ideal place for life, except for one hitch.  The planet is in the middle of what astronomers call the Goldilocks zone, that hard to find place that's not too hot, not too cold, where water, which is essential for life, doesn't freeze or boil. And it has a shopping mall-like surface temperature of near 72 degrees, scientists say. Read more...



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Day, Occupy Wall Street DC


Movements shift the public will - Rinku Sen

I've written again about Occupy Wall Street DC, this time my experiences there on Thanksgiving day - see below.  In the spirit of exploring the word "occupy," the two words "basic goodness," and how individuals can "shift the public will," I have another video clip to share. A seventeen year old Toronto high school student and victim of bullying, Jacques St. Pierre, wrote to Lady Gaga and several other celebrities to ask them to support the movement to end bullying in schools. To St. Pierre's astonishment, he recieved an a-mail from Lady Gaga herself a few days later, as reported in Huffington Post:
"The subject line said 'To Jacques from Lady Gaga,'" he told (CBS new correspondent Melanie) Nagy. "It said 'click on the link below to download the video for your assembly.' So no questions asked, Lady Gaga sent us a video. I watched it, and I started crying. I'm a huge fan. It's kind of embarrassing because I love her so much. I couldn't believe it."
I started to cry, too. Here's a link to the full Huggington Post article and video




.  .  . 

Statue of General James B. McPherson,
McPherson Square, Washington D.C.


Thanksgiving Day, Occupy Wall Street DC
(Down load PDF of article)

I bought $80 worth of roasted chickens at the Peruvian rotisserie and hailed a cab for McPherson Square. The driver approved of what I was doing - donating food to the OWS tent city - and we were both in a good mood on an exquisite sixty-three degree Thanksgiving day, with no wind, a clear sky, and the fallen oak leaves still strong with a muted orange that made the sky all the more blue. I paid him eight dollars including tip for the ride, which meant I was still twelve dollars short of the $100 I told myself I would donate to OWS on this Thanksgiving day. I'd recently spent a hundred dollars or more on so many hotel rooms over so many nights - not to mention the hundreds of dollars over a lifetime on this or that pack of cigarettes, bottles of Côtes Du Rhône, DVD rentals, novels I never finished and clothes I thought I needed - that this was a small sacrifice indeed, as well as a more creative and interesting use of a hundred dollar bill.

At the head of a line of folding utility tables where all the other food that had been donated - everything from turkey to pizza to glazed doughnuts - was being served was a young man who looked like he was in charge of something, at least for the moment. I told him I had five roasted chickens. He asked if they were cut, I said "no" and he escorted me to the kitchen tent, showed me the cutting board, and gave me a knife. After I'd hacked leg from thigh and breast from ribcage, I washed my hands with antiseptic gel from a dispenser bottle, since of course there was no running water, covered the chicken back up with aluminum foil - they wouldn't be needed until later since so many other people had also donated - and left the tent. The young man couldn't think of any more work that need to be done, so I began to mill around and get to know the place a little bit more for the second day in a row.

The first place I went was the library tent. Not surprisingly, it was by far the most orderly, if not serene, nine square yards of McPherson Square (though many of the private tents were also models of organized space usage). A young man named Brian told me the books had all arrived a few at a time, donations that had now filled the tent and were all organized into clearly labeled sections: education, democracy, identity politics, labor issues. As libraries are closing all over the country, in OWS they are springing up inside tents. Maybe this would be one of the best ways to continue the movement; street-side library tents? And what is more potentially transformative and powerfully non-violent than a book?

An older man was inside the library with me, browsing the books in the posture of browsing; shoulders slightly hunched and head cocked to the side in order to read the spine titles. It's a posture of privacy and inquiry; one feels quite safe and comforted inhabiting it, protected from interruption and millimeters away from a book that might change ones life or at least provide the next footsteps in the lifelong educational growth that written language supplies us. That's what the man was looking at, the Language section. His posture reminded me of my father and of myself, men who like(d) to browse bookstore aisles.

Outside of the library tent I ran into the woman who had given me the list of things I might donate to the encampment. She recognized me and smiled immediately. "I brought five roasted chickens," I said. Rene - I learned her name during our conversation - hugged me and kept her arm around me, escorting me in the direction she'd been walking. "I told you I'd be back," I said, "Yep, I see you are." Rene had the same alert presence as she did twenty-four hours ago, and added, "I've been up for forty-eight hours, working ever since the marchers from New York City arrived." She showed me to tents she had procured for them. "They're stuffed in there at night like sausages, but at least they are warm."

Tent door, OWS DC.

The library tent, as well as the choice residential tent locations, face and open onto the circular sidewalk that rings the statue of General James B. McPherson, the only army commander to die in the field of battle during the Civil War. The bronze man and horse tower above the encampment in a synchronistic symbol of sacrifice. I walked down the sidewalks that bisect the park and as I got close to one tent a women emerged and gazing vaguely in my direction - though never directly at me - began to shout, "You come in the direction of this tent and you're charged immediately with attempted rape. I mean it, you're charged with rape and I'm not kidding mother fucker." As they were yesterday, the realities of mental illness, former abuse, and homelessness were represented in every quadrant of the square.

As I walked on, an African American woman holding three chocolate chip cookies approached me and asked for money. As she began to spin the details of her story I pulled a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and gave it to her (now I had donated $108). She increased the dramatic enactment of her story, gave me the chocolate chip cookies, took me by the hand, and started to lead me to the street. It was logical and humane for her to try to get more from me, and when I said the twenty was all I could give she took it well and insisted that I eat all three cookies myself.

I ran into the librarian again who told me his name was Phil. He was twenty-four, exactly three years younger than my own son, and I could have easily guessed his age. A tall, muscular, and street-worn black man of my age approached us and reached with both hands into the pockets of his coat, pulled out something sticky and orange - a kind of grain, pumpkin, squash; I had no idea - and intermittently stuffed the food into his mouth, which spilled out again as he spoke to us. He zeroed in on me. I told him where I was from and where I had lived. It was hard to understand him, but he kept saying something about my age, "Born in the early 1950's" he said a number of times - certainly correct about my age and making me feel like that fact was the only one I know about my existence. There's few faster ways to have self-credentials rattled than to carry on a conversation with someone who is mentally ill. 

I was taken back to the 1980s, after then-California-governor Ronald Reagan had closed the state mental institutions which responded by dumping their populations onto the street. At the Berkeley meditation center, which was so much a part of my life then, there always seemed to be a mentally ill person in the building - since they knew it was one that might accommodate them - and I often navigated the boundary between seeing if the person would behave reasonably, and therefore be allowed to stay in the room while we meditated or held a class, or if they had to be asked to leave. In those moments I always felt tested. Was my compassion real or a sham? To what degree was this person telling me the truth or hustling me? And where is the moral boundary between giving someone your time and telling them you have to go?

As always in any moment of reality - not to mention any social configuration - there are many stories that could be told about OWS DC. I'm writing about the intersection between homelessness and the OWS movement - the very visceral reality of it - because this is the story that has most prominently come my way, and through it I am understanding something. Apropos to this understanding, I received an e-mail from a friend in response to the blog I wrote yesterday:
Your piece on the encampment touches many of the feelings and thoughts I've been having about it here in Portland.  The camp was taken down a week ago now, but as in DC, the camp had become a gathering of much of the city's homeless population after the initial momentum began to dwindle. One protester returned to his tent to sleep and was jabbed by a used needle someone had left behind - the media feasted on that incident.
My teacher once said, "Luxury is experiencing reality." Living here at McPherson Square is a bit more luxury than I'm willing to experience, but I think this is clearly the reality he was talking about. Closer to the elements and not shielded from pain. It makes perfect sense that homeless people would move in - just as they came to the Berkeley meditation center. Here they are not shunned and were in fact invited (as my friend told me they were in Portland). 

That the homeless population might overpower the abilities of the OWS demonstrators - just as the cold might - is completely natural. Homelessness is part of a soup whose recipe includes most of the issues the protesters are aware of and protesting: PTSD from childhood abuse, alcohol and drug addiction in the family, napalm dropped in the Vietnam War, roadside bombs in Iraq, vets turned out on the street, sub-prime loans made in the poorest neighborhoods with contracts signed by machines, cancer caused from living near Superfund sites, and families without any medical insurance. Pain and neglect rolls downhill and OWS DC is a downhill collection site. A horrific and beautiful campground that I feel privileged to have entered and a lot happier for having done do. 



Just as there were many stories I could tell about the ninety-minutes I spent at McPherson Square on Thanksgiving day, 2011, there were many reasons why I had to come. The central reason I had to come... is that I just knew I had to come. That feeling had struck me when I was still in Turkey, when I first read about the OWS encampment in NYC. It wasn't until later in the day - at 2:28 AM as a matter of fact, when I was lying in bed wide awake - that it struck me that something had been "transmitted" to me by coming, and that I had entered OWS. It was a good feeling. I no longer felt outside of something I had admired and identified with, but inside it. And I knew that this feeling was the point, the message of that word "occupy," that it means - to quote Ram Dass from 1970 - "be here now." It means be here now with a 2011 twist, that we can be here now with a lot of other people, without any one particular agenda, but with an increased commitment to push and nudge global society in a more positive direction. It means to move, to the degree one can and is willing, outside of the comfort zone and into the chaos. It's not about seeking utopia, aggrandizing oneself, or being hopelessly idealistic, and therefore naive. It's about coming out of the closet.

Inside the library tent, OWS DC.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Voyage to (Occupy Wall Street) Washington D.C.


 OWS encampment, Washington, D.C. 

My blog this week is about my journey to Washington D.C. and encounter with the Occupy Wall Street movement. As I was writing this I watched an incredible interview on Democracy Now about Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle. Sonia and Peter were both convicted of murdering police officers - she in the U.S., Peter in Ireland - and sentenced to death. After years on death row, their convictions were overturned, they were exonerated and released from prison... and many years later met and married each other! What is equally remarkable is that they both credited surviving their ordeal, including years in solitary confinement, through yoga and meditation. Their story is the finest Thanksgiving story for the rest of us that I could imagine

VOYAGE TO (OCCUPY WALL STREET) WASHINGTON D.C.

Tuesday

I took the Long Island Railroad into New York City. Just north of the Jamaica Queens stop, the train passed a refuse collection center. Men were hauling wet cardboard boxes to the side, separating recyclables from the other masses of garbage, and the seagulls swooped and circled overhead, keen with enthusiasm for the sea of rotting life below them. After all the houses and lawns and apartment buildings we'd passed, seeing the dump was like viewing a body opened for stomach surgery - an eight-second glimpse through the train window into what else is going on.

The refuse center suddenly brought me back to the Sunday market in Arad, where I could have bought a live peacock or rabbit and taken it with me on the train. But this was New York state, not Romania, and the only animal I could take on this train would be a seeing-eye dog. It was in Romania that I decided to return to the United States in time to support the group of OWS protesters who were marching from NYC to Washington DC. Now I was in the final stages of my plan, on a train to Penn Station where I would transfer to Amtrak and arrive in DC later in the day. Tomorrow the protesters would march on the capital and so would I. Or so I thought.


Graffiti, Budapest.

I arrived at my friend Lisa's apartment and tried to update my information about the marchers. It had been hard to find much information about them on the internet. Finally I found their blog, but even that said little about where they would be the next day.


Wednesday

Still without specific information on the OWS marchers, Lisa and I decided to take the Metro to the Capitol. "They're bound to show up there sooner or later," I said. Before leaving the house I got an e-mail from a friend who I had told about my plans. He was enthused and supportive about them, but disclosed "I find it difficult to commit to one movement or another. Everything is changing and so do the movements and the conditions." That view, along with so many others, is also part of my own. Within the great Everything-Is-Changing how can we not each be versions of Walt Whitman contradicting ourselves? Yet as another poet-I-love wrote, it is impossible not to have a politics:

There is no way out of the spiritual battle
There is no way you can avoid taking sides
There is no way you can not have a poetics
no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher

you do it in the consciousness of making
or not making yr world
from Rant by Diane Di Prima

The Capitol building was luminous from last night's pouring rain and this morning's sunlight, filtered by clouds but bright enough to electrify all of its white, its columns, its dome and the statue Freedom above it, the 15,000 pound cast bronze sculpture of woman holding a sword and draped in an Indian blanket, whose face the looks decidedly kind, warm, and at peace with herself. A drala of the feminine principle if there ever was one, standing above a legislative building with a military budget almost as large as all the other countries of the planet combined.

Beyond the luminosity the place was virtually deserted. The occasional clusters of tourists were swallowed by the immensity of the place, the pigeons were few, and there wasn't a protest sign in sight. Nope, the marchers clearly weren't here yet, but we had a feeling they never would be. We stopped to ask one of the Capitol policeman about the OWS march that we'd heard was converging on the Capitol. He scanned the day's schedule but there was nothing on it about any protest or political event.

Ram with cornucopia, Sam Rayburn House Office Building

McPherson Square

Lisa knew that the OWS Washington DC tent city was located at McPherson Square, so that is where we went next, and where my own experience of OWS crossed over from virtual to visceral, where my story-line went from mediated and imagined to concrete--grass and a refugee camp of tents, tarps, and chaos, a sampling of particularity at 11:17 AM on the day before Thanksgiving.

Apart from of the statue of the Union general and namesake of the square, I discerned no particular center, central theme, or population. The dozens and dozens of tents and semi-tents seemed unoccupied at the moment and the majority of the people standing around were African American men; many of them homeless, some Vietnam era, some young, some mentally ill. One black man was given wide birth by the passers-by as he repeated the same series of gyrations and muscle-flexing, a dance-schizophrenia of working-something-out. The pigeons seemed to have gotten used to him and flocked at the birdseed near his feet.

Lisa and I walked through the encampment. I was not sure what she was feeling (I didn't really know what I felt until the middle of the night). I've had so many experiences in the last year of going to a new town, a new country, handing someone my passport, crossing the membrane from other to gradual inclusion. Now I was not just crossing into McPherson Square, but into another country. My trepidation, solidarity, and naïveté had to cross. My sense of being an ancestor to the movement but also an interloper and lightweight had to cross. I was keen to photograph and video tape what I was about to cross into and so my voyeur, paparazzi, and cliché-monger had to cross along with my Canon cameras and nascent memories that I would later write about.

 In those first moments I felt understanding for the David Brooks and the Newt Gingrich-ones, those who dismissed, scorned or mocked these protesters, people who would never see these encampments for themselves. But this place was also a stretch for the middle class, the swing voter, and just about anyone one else who lives a semi-comfortable life. Even for a so-called progressive or liberal, being here was different than honking in solidarity from your Volvo or sending a supportive e-mail. 

McPherson Square was thick in dreadlocks, hand-painted signs, wheelchairs and cigarette smoking. It was thin on infrastructure; mangy, wet, and deteriorating tarps, no toilets, no running water. It was thick with passers-through; dog-walkers, supporters, the curious, TV crews, gang-bangers and gang-banger look alikes. It was thin on defense against the cold, money, food and electricity (there were many solar panels). It was thick in stories, thick with the human sophistication that comes from interacting on the spot, on the street, with just about anybody in a place where just about anything could happen.

The iconic and necessary elements of these tent-cities were easy to find: the library tent, the first-aid tent, the mess tent. I reached the information tent and approached a multitasking African American woman in her late thirties who summarily asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to help. "We need blankets, socks, thermal underwear - if you have that kind of money - and food donations," she said, wrote these out on a yellow sticky-pad note and handed it to me. I asked if I could help on Thanksgiving and she said, "Of course. You can bring food and you can work in our kitchen." Her multi-tasking was minute-by-minute triage and she was good at it; assessing my sincerity, welcoming me without fooling herself that I'd come back with anything on the list, snapping at an approaching TV news crew that she didn't want to be photographed. You could put her in charge of anything, I thought, and she'd be good at it.

.  .  .

When Lisa and I left McPherson Park we walked west on K Street. We went from virtual refugee camp to Hilton Hotel and Capital City Club & Spa. We went from pizza on damp cardboard to steak and lobster and white tablecloths, from donation buckets to Bank of America ATMs. The encampment was no more than a vulnerable, fleeting moment in time. It could be decimated overnight by a 2:00 AM police raid or simply by a change of heart in the protesters. I suddenly felt a different ninety-nine percent versus one-percent equation. The encampment was representing, consciously and unconsciously and through its diverse demographics, 99% of the realities we find difficult to face, and the rest of K Street was expending 99% of its energy pretending these realities were otherwise.


 Sign, OWS Washington DC

Non-Violence Works

Did you ever see Dr. Martin Luther King yelling at a police officer or kicking a car?

Did you ever see Gandhi deface a statue?

Did breaking windows or burning cars stop the IMF or World Trade Organizaton?

Disorganized minds cannot organize anything. Do you think the government is scared of a stoned protester?

Intoxication, fighting police and vandalism is how you protest a bad soccer referee. Should we follow the soccer hooligans or Mahatma Gandhi?





Tuesday, November 15, 2011

VOYAGE TO ROMANIA




Note: This is a story about six days I spent in Romania this month. The echo of my time there is like the one from Cambodia; being in a country where the pace remains more connected to the earth-rhythm than elsewhere, ostensibly because the country is still poor. For me, the rhythm is a mirror showing what contemporary life has lost -  and what the people in Romania are in the process of loosing - but it is also about the different kind of future we will have when we turn back toward that more earthly, sustainable rhythm. Bill

.  .  .

Bucharest

I’d found a $128 flight from Istanbul to Bucharest and sensed this was the route to begin my journey back to the U.S. In the late afternoon on October 31st I found myself on a bus from the Bucharest Airport to the hotel where I'd made a reservation, chosen once again through the internet. Only later did I realize I had arrived in Romania on Halloween.

The passengers on the bus I turned to for directions were diligently kind, which formed my first impression of Romania. The woman behind me deliberated at great length just where I should get off for Magheru 8-10, the address of my hotel, and when she asked the man across the aisle for his advice, he knew with certainty and just about took my hand and led me off the bus when it came to my stop.

The Ambassador Hotel displayed the flags of the European Union, its entrance was embedded between two sex shops - just as one internet review claimed it would be - and the lobby itself was a chaos of pillars, worn out sofas and florescent lighting. I handed over my passport and once I'd established a bit of rapport with the desk clerk asked him if I could have a room had a good view. He retrieved the key he was about to give me and handed me another. Room #314 was at the end of a hallway and was large, with two balcony windows and a bathtub so enormous it  suggested the disquiet of accidental drowning. The walls seemed to be yellow, painted very long ago and lit by weak energy saving light bulbs. Except for a rotary-dial telephone, the room seemed it had been left unchanged for decades and I imagined I could have been a minor Politburo authority just arrived from Moscow. Across the street was an immense Communist-era apartment building, its concrete peeling apart and enduring at the same time.

I turned on the  tap and eventually the tub did fill and I took a bath, the hot water bringing my nervous system back to earth. Armed with directions from the desk clerk I set out for dinner and a walk of ten or twelve blocks to get to where the restaurants would be. What Bucharest would look like in the day was largely obscured in the dark and instead consisted of headlights, the sound of traffic and the streetlamps lighting the grey surfaces of sidewalks, buildings and asphalt, a kind of contemporary anywhere. Eventually I had the good fortune to find a small restaurant and a kind waiter, a man who spoke enough English that we could eventually even exchange irony over the size the dinner (large). My broccoli soup came in a deep tureen and was so good I came back the next night and had it again.

The soup, the spaghetti carbonara and two glasses of good red wine erased everything I’d been missing after three months of eating nothing but Turkish food and I left the restaurant with a sated and gratified well-being. I was walking down a mostly deserted street when an elderly woman approached me from the opposite direction and began speaking to me in Romanian. I knew she was asking for money, but her demeanor and dress - as if she'd come from the office - belied this. When I spoke the woman switched to English and began to explain to me the short-form of her story. She had worked her adult life in some ministry, spoke five languages and now she was retired, her pension had been cut and food prices were rising. She had no family and no other way to survive but to beg to make up the shortfall. We spoke for some time and I gave her 10 lei (about three dollars) – later I wished I’d given here 50. She told me her name was Ellen and thanked me profusely. “No, I thank you,” I said and meant it. Affection flowed between us in a kind of shock that we were now parting. I thought about Ellen for a long time. I wondered if I would be in her shoes one day, or who among my friends might be.


Inner courtyard. Timisoara, Romania.

Timisoara

When I arrived in Timisoara I tried to avoid, as I always do, taking a taxi. Not just because I would rather take a bus or metro and thus find my own way to my hotel, but because I dislike getting ripped off by taxis drivers and one is never more a sitting duck than when one has just arrived in a country and doesn’t even know the foreign exchange value of its currency. I bought a ticket for the bus and waited at the stop as the small crowd in the small airport gradually emptied and left me with no idea at all when the next bus would arrive. Finally a seeming taxi-driver approached me and I surrendered to what seemed to be the better part of common sense.

As we got into his grey BWM sedan I realized he wasn’t an official taxi driver at all and I was engaged in a form of transportation not recommended by one’s embassy. The steering wheel air bag had been removed, leaving an unsettling cavity in it’s place. I was suddenly regretting my suitcase was locked in the trunk. Even before we were out of the parking lot I realized the driver was not a criminal but quite kind, reasonably fair and was gradually able to answer my question about train travel, though we had not a single word in common, that there were no trains from Timisoara to Budapest. For that I’d have to go to Arad. I wondered if I was closer or farther from my destination – my return to the U.S. It is after wondering such things that I realize, sometimes with a sinking feeling, sometimes with almost an elation, that I don't exactly have a destination. 

.  .  .

Hotel Delpack was the first hotel on my trip in which I could see chickens from my window. The hotel was a modern, three-story cube in an otherwise rural neighborhood of one-story houses and a two square-block cemetery. Besides the chickens I encountered an even more welcome sight that first morning: crows. A large flock of them circled the city, moving cavalierly in and out of various formations then scattering into their own temporary destinies.

I spent two nights in room #211, in numerology a four. I decided to find its symbolic meaning through the internet: fours represent stability, calmness, home; the four directions and the four seasons. On my first night it seemed to work that way. I sat in meditation before dinner and I’d never felt the forty-five minute transformation to be any greater. To simply sit, let ones thoughts scatter. Like the crows did. That particular sense of well-being-for-no-reason arrived and carried me well into the next day.

Timisoara is the Tahrir Square of late 20th Century Romanian history. The revolution that overthrew the twenty-eight year dictatorship to Nicolae Ceaușescu and the even longer reign of communism began here and then spread to Bucharest. Since then, democracy and so-called free enterprise have transformed the country and the twenty to thirty-somethings one sees on the street would have no more memory of the Communist ear than I do of the Eisenhower presidency. For those of my generation, growing up in Romania would be the polar opposite of growing up in California. Instead of free education and the Beach Boys followed by the Jefferson Airplane one had farm collectivization, forced-labor camps and secret police. It is thought one of every four Romanians became an informer.

My experiences in Timisoara revealed very little of its history per se. I didn't visit museums or read guidebooks, but instead simply wandered in the general direction of the central city. Instead of learning of Romania's cataclysms in WWII - the fascist Iron Guard, the eventual alignment with Nazi Germany, the campaigns against the Soviet Union and the deportation and murder of its Jews - during the day, I studied them on the internet in the evening. In the day I wandered the streets and saw a veritable Louvre of peeling paint and exposed bricks. The layers of history as visual texture. I came across a wall that displayed all of this, plus a defunct pay telephone - a scene that was a combination of Marcel Duchamp and musuem of technology, the telephone as useless as a phonograph without any records in the room.

The chickens I'd seen reminded me of a quote from Milan Kundera, who once wrote that human goodness "can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.... 
Mankind’s true moral test (which lies deeply buried from view) consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: the animals. And in this respect, mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.
I felt this way even about the telephone - the unmerciful development of our technology just to go ever faster more conveniently - much less the chickens in the yard of my hotel. Like most people, I've eaten so many chickens I could never calculate the amount (currently the world population of chickens on any given day is over twenty-four billion). It is for that reason they have become a totem. They ask so little, feeding on garbage and living traditionally in our yards with little other demand than the rooster's need to crow, yet giving us so much through their eggs and their life. If only they could have a decent life, the one they've always had, instead of being stockpiled, just as pigs are, in cages and grown like hydroponic lettuce or a silicon chip. Just seeing chickens rooting around in the dirt is enough to cheer me and give me hope for our collective future. 
.  .  .

On my third day in Timisoara, the day of my departure, my state of mind was quite different than the day before. I felt anxiety. Perhaps only because I was leaving this home and had no idea what the next one, the next hotel, would be like. But when I went to meditate the anxiety spoke to me, told me its subject – and in that moment changed. To sadness. I began to feel the sadness was about Romania. Was it something collective I’d walked into (just as I walked into something collective in Cambodia) and was now feeling? The moment told me not to avoid it.


Historic town square, Timisoara.


Arad

After two days in Timisoara I found myself on a train to Arad and my first chance to see the countryside of Romania. Early November at 4:00 PM, the sun low; farmland harvested and now picked at by crows and blackbirds, stubble burning in untended fires, late model tractors and small towns huddled around a central church whose steeple penetrates the sky and dominates the horizon. 

I had missed my train and had to wait two hours for the next one and now I had almost missed my stop for Arad. Assumptions are usually wrong and if followed usually lead to great or smaller misfortunes. I’d assumed my departure train was late but I was reading the sign for arrivals. I assumed I wasn’t yet in Arad since most of the passengers weren’t departing the train. Fortunately, I asked someone at the last minute, who said, Yes, Arad!”

When I got off the train at Arad it came with the same kind of thud as my suitcase produced hitting the floor. Suddenly, in this small and derelict train terminal I felt as far from home as I ever had in my life - not to mention I don’t currently have a home. I wasn’t ripped off by my taxi driver but the sight of my hotel gave me a second sinking feeling. The Xo Residence was as bland as a Motel Six and looked eerily out of place and slightly elicit on a street of small houses and boarded up shops. Everything pivoted when I walked through the door and was greeting by a young woman with shaved eyebrows and a low cut sweater. She helped me in every way, from calling to find when the trains left for Budapest to assuring me I had a room with a good window, but mostly by her smile and kindness. She took me to room #1.

There is not much you can do to make a hotel room home other than to accept it, and after that feeling at home often comes quickly. Last summer I spent a few days in a Denver hotel room with the number 2319. During that time I had the experience that we never go anywhere. It was an on and off again phenomenological truth with me for those few days, something more than the punitive cliche that we never get away from ourselves, but instead a feeling of continuous homecoming. I felt that way as soon as I locked the door behind me in room #1. It didn’t hurt that the WiFi worked and that there were plenty of chickens in the neighbor’s courtyard. 

I didn't know it, but one more event was about to cheer me even further. I had began my evening walk and search for a place to eat dinner and had reached Boulevard Revolutiei where the restaurants supposed were  - though I found only a monstrously large MacDonald's, a Turkish döner hole-in-the-wall and a handful of bars that also served food. As I made my way down the street, suddenly I saw a number of young women dressed in white gowns and looking like they had come from a wedding - though this was Friday night. As I got closer I saw they had wings attached to their gowns, were handing out flyers. The first of these costumed angels I reached immediately offered to hug me. Was my journey from abjectness at the train terminal to about-to-be-hugged by a beautiful angel a joke from the dralas, a set up to amuse them?
.  .  .

I had dinner two nights in a row at Pomo D’Ora, an Italian restaurant I had found  and immediately chose over the McDonalds and döner joint. I sat at the same table each night, drank the same wine (Romanian, from a box. It was good.) and had the same waitress. On the second night I learned her name: Florina. She, too, had shaved eyebrows. Florina was married and in her late twenties and told me she was born and raised in a village about 150 kilometers from Arad, a village by the name of Avram-Iancu. This most musical five syllable name, with its consonants enclosed in vowels, is also the name of a famous Romanian revolutionary of the 19th Century. I learned this when I asked Florina what her village was known for.

I also asked Florina how she liked living in Arad. She liked it OK, but not like her village. When she spoke about Avram-Inacu, that’s when her eyes lit up. Florina had grown up in a village whose economy was based on raising pigs and growing vegetables. It was the warmth and familiarity of the community there that she missed. “Of course I have lots of friend here in Arad,” she said, “but it’s not the same.” Florina grew up in a village that raised pigs yet she could easily have worked in any restaurant in the world. She moved gracefully, was at ease when our eyes met. She was naturally warm and yet reserved in just the right way; you felt she wouldn’t lose track or your order or anyone's, it was all one piece and Florina was as much of a dancer as waitress. Florina didn’t know how good, how capable she was. Though she did know the melancholy of being displaced from the town of her cheerful youth and the earth that sustained it.

During the meal I went to Avram-Iancu myself in some small way. I was raised in a town that was only thirteen thousand people. It was a town of gamboling casinos, ski lifts and motels rather than pig pens and carrot patches but I, too, lived in a world of seeming stability. Doctor Whitely gave me me antibiotics when my throat was sore in kindergarten just as he did when I was a freshman in high school. And above all, I had nature, all that I wanted of it. Creeks, pinecones, secret paths only I knew about. Florina must have had the same.

. . .


On the morning of my last day in Arad I had time to take a walk before leaving for the train station. I passed the drain pipe that had been lit by the sun when I first saw it and radiated the inner, compelling vitality the moment had given it. When I saw it last night it was dark, a different object entirely. I was different too (could the drainpipe know?). I walked all the way to Boulevard Revolutiei again, found a good bakery and bought provisions for the train. On the way home I came across the large semi-outdoor market that I had encountered the day before. But today - Sunday - it was also a livestock market. Living geese, ducks, rabbits, peacocks and, of course, chickens everywhere. It was a scene of unregulated animal well-being - at least before the slaughter - and human beings enjoying the animals, the barter, each other and the morning sun. 

My time in Romania had come into symmetry with myself and no guide book could have taken taken me here. There wasn't a cash register or bar code in sight. Only cages and men with great knowledge of the content of the cages beside them. Neither peacock or person seemed to be going anywhere, though any sale could part them. It is an accepted fact that people often look like their dogs but I'd never seen a gentleman who looked like his rabbit. Lit by the sun, the man squinted with the same expression as the rabbit, while the rabbit sat as impassively as the man.

At the station I bought a second class ticket from Arad to Budapest for thirty-three, U.S. It wasn't until we were in Hungary that I realized my train had virtually limped out of Romania. I could see we were going slow, but only when the train speed almost doubled after it picket up passengers at the Hungarian border did I realize how slow. Perhaps this was a homage to the difference between Romania and Hungary, how much more "developed" the latter country is. Hard to believe it was the same train. And suddenly everyone on it looked as different from Romanians as the Romanians do from the Turkish, perhaps even more so. It was a shock to be in a different country having just gotten barely used to the one I was in. On the way to Budapest we passed through farmlands and small towns, just like in Romania, but everything looked more prosperous and maintained. Thank God I could still see plenty of chickens running around.

Market, Arad.




The rewards of aimless wandering: I encounterd the angels who
hugged me on Friday night again the next day. Arad, Romania.

Friday, November 11, 2011

THE GOOD SOMETHING & THE HAND OF GOD




I've spent over a month without posting a blog, an indication of my state of mind and the journey of my experience. The intangible qualities that kept me sometimes in rapt inspiration ceased; as when a straw empties the liquid in a drink, the end comes suddenly and the new emptiness-of-ability-to-write takes some getting used to. During this time I've traveled from Turkey to Romania and finally Budapest, where I am now, but my outer reality became as much about the internet footage and related stories I read about Occupy Wall Street and related events as it was about Istanbul or Bucharest and I began to feel a visceral connection to these occupations. This is something that mirrored my inner journey, one that wore away more of what I had known. Now I have my return ticket to the U.S. and I am looking forward to arriving in New York City, exchanging the role of wanderer (or crazy stranger) with that of citizen.

Among other things I've gestated during this time is an expansion of my blog (and website), in that I am beginning a request for submission of articles on dralas and the drala principle. I've had one such article for some time and it's author, Patricia Friedson has kindly giving me permission to share it. This is a most genuine writing about drala and I'm sure it will move you. Please consider writing something of your own and sending it to me. 

It seems to me the organizations and protests that are occurring all over the world are rooted in something that is expressed in the essay below. It is a political consciousness that is emerging, put also a poetic one; perhaps that is why the protests are not oriented to one side or party or issue alone, but are instead an expression of wanting to reclaim something that has been lost, that is being lost, is almost becoming irredeemably lost - qualities of humanity and the environmental integrity of our planet earth.

.  .  .
We may have been interested in our world when we were little children, but then we were taught how to handle it by our parents who had already developed a system to deal with the world and to shield themselves from it at the same time. As we accepted that system, we lost contact with the freshness and curiosity of experience. - Chögyam Trungpa.




The Good Something
by Patricia Friedson

Dear Bill -
Thank you for your website.  And thank you especially for the part about dralas. 

I had never heard the term drala until a few days ago, when I was researching Buddhism on the net, and came across the poem that starts "Born a monk ..." on a different website.

Then I started googling dralas, and so thankfully came to your site.



Reading the excerpt from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche made me remember childhood.  I was a fairly unsupervised kid, and spent a lot of time rambling around in nature just kind of "being with" things; a tree, a particular place where moss grew, the neighbor's dog, or lying on an apartment house roof, looking up through the clotheslines and windy laundry at the blue sky and moving clouds.  There were always clothespins that had been dropped or fallen off the line.  Some of them were made of colored plastic, deep translucent colors like stained glass.  I remember a moment, lying on that roof, on a windy day
 of deep blue sky and fluffy white sailing ship clouds.  I was lying on the roof, holding a red clothespin up to the light.  Its color was amazing; like wine or pomegranate or cherry, gleaming with deep, rich light. 

It was a moment when everything "came together" - the sky, the wind, being up high, the sound of my mom humming as she hung up laundry a few feet away, the wonderful color of the red clothespin, and the marvel that it was colored, yet clear; colored light came through it - and also some very tall pines or cedars that grew next to the apartment building, so that their treetops were right along part of the roof,
 and the wind rustled and sighed through them. Somehow in that moment, it all came together.  It felt like "something" good and kind came out of the tree tops, and sat near me.  Because the moment was right somehow.



Now I realize that childhood was full of moments like that.  Often it was nature that I was "being with," but sometimes it was a poem, or a piece of music; a Scottish folk song or a Mozart Rondo, or a photograph of a person's face in National Geographic, somehow it was a deep "being with" the "is-ness" of things.  In a deep, wordless way that seemed to lead to the mystery of being alive at all.  That made a deep connection, with people, with nature, colors, sounds, sorrows, joys, and with Something Invisible, some Good, Sweet thing that seemed always to be there at those times.  I thought of it as God, but not at all like going to church.  At least, not the services.  But sometimes, in the quiet of an empty church, in the stillness with candles flickering in colored glass holders and the scent of incense and the kind of sad feeling in the air of many prayers lingering there, then sometimes it felt like the Good Something was there, a sweetness, a gentleness, a cleanness, that I thought could see me, could see everyone, though we could not see it.



It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to talk to that presence. Or presences.  Because it had different flavors, different feelings, but it always seemed at heart the same.  Sometimes it made me want to draw pictures or write poems, to express it somehow.  Other times it was just about being with it, for as long as it stayed.  Sometimes I would wake up late at night, and it would feel like Something Good was there, and I would get up and sit on the stairs, trying to stay awake, to be with it.  I remember one time it was a winter night, and it all seemed so important, the cold, the snow, the night sky and the crystal clarity of stars, it just was what it was, the winter nightness of a winter night, yet with that was Something, a longing, a mystery, a goodness.  



As I became a teen-ager, these experiences went away.  I still loved life, poetry, music; I traveled and experienced many religions.  But except for rare moments, not with the purity of childhood.  

Now I am 61.  And reading about the dralas made these childhood memories come flooding back.  Are these memories at all on the right track? Is it part of it, a place to start in understanding Dralas?  



Whatever the Dralas are, they seem so needed, it is something the world needs so much.  I don't understand it, I don't know what I am doing, but I very much want to help if I can.

Thank you for any help you can give me about this, and thank you for putting Dralas on the net.  When I read about them, it was the first time in a long time that I felt not so alone, somewhere deep in myself. Although I am very fortunate, with family, friends, students, neighbors, animals, a lot of good company.  But reading about the Dralas was like hearing the language of one's homeland spoken, for the first time in a long, long time.


Gratefully, Wishing You all the best, 

Patricia

.  .  .


Arad, Romania

.  .  .

THE HAND OF GOD - video interview with Tom Pathe

Almost three years ago, I film-interviewed my dear friend Tom Pathe. I recently came across this video again and realized I should share it. I’ve titled it The Hand of God to reinforce the journey of freedom that Tom has been on, that the Buddhist path is, and that the drala principle epitomizes. Tom is an early student of Chogyam Trungpa-Lord Mukpo and has been a rolfer nearly as long. Tom has not hesitated to allow the teachings not just of Lord Mukpo, but two indigenous traditions he studied within, to guide and become him. If you have a human body this video interview will be of interest, much less if you’ve ever received or given bodywork. Tom has been continuously plummeting the cataract of discovery of our “inner body.” May you follow carefully the eight minutes of this talk. It’s about gravity, man.