Wednesday, December 28, 2011


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.

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


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


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...