Saturday, September 1, 2012


Detail from Houses in Provence. Paul Cézanne, National Gallery of Art.

The only "C" I received in college was in an art history class - an irony, since even then I loved art history. I did not enjoy the history of being pummeled by slides or committing rote facts to memory, which accounted for my grade. I was interested in a history of phenomenology: why a landscape by Paul Cézanne altered me, why a Kandinsky watercolor made me want to paint - made me have to paint. At that time I worked as a janitor, bought books on Paul Klee and Goya and painted canvases horizontally - on top of my bed - in a thirty-five dollar a month room. Read more...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Food, Meals and the Portals of Vertical Time

Dear Friends,

Those of you who are followers of my blog know that I suspended publication last February, but may not know that I have resumed my work and writing under a new website, Vertical Time Yoga. I have a mailing list in which I announce new postings and would very much like you to be on it, if you aren't already (you can sign up on the Resource page of my website). If you would prefer to follow me through this blog, I will also continue to announce my postings here, then link to my website. 

Wishing you the very best,

Bill Scheffel

Food, Meals and the Portals of Vertical Time
Originally posted to Vertical Time Yoga on 12-Aug: 2012

For at least eight years I have enjoyed a feast nearly every night. Feasts, although they can and have occurred in restaurants are best taken at home, in an environment that is not fully public, a place where the guests come by invitation. "Home" - as I have had many opportunities to discover - can be a hotel room and the meal simply a plate of crackers, cheese and fruit. Most of the feasts I have taken has included a glass or two of wine. Most of these feasts I've taken alone. In some years I might have eaten alone up to two-hundred or more evenings. "Alone" I must put in parenthesis also, since my intention at every feast has been to invite the dralas and dine with them. Perhaps it is often the wine, but I would say the dralas generally appear and we share each other's company. Read more...

Food and Transformation
Posted to Vertical Time Yoga on 24-Aug: 2012

I. Goddess of the Hearth 

The photograph above shows a bowl of uncooked red lentils. They are the main ingredient in a dal I make, the legacy of a part-time business I had in Boulder the 1990s, Cuisine of India Catering. Since shortly after my father died in August 2012, I've been living out of a suitcase. I have traveled in the United States and abroad and have visited many friends along the way. I've been living from the suitcase for twenty-three months and have given the dal recipe to several of my friends and shown them how to make it. Read more...

Thursday, February 9, 2012



Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

        - Wallace Stevens

.  .  .  .  .
A Video Interview with Henry Schaeffer

Henry Schaeffer - January 2012, San Francisco.

Henry Schaeffer studied with Suzuki-roshi before meeting Chögyam Trungpa and becoming the latter teacher's student in 1970. In this video, Henry describes the first and second time he encountered Chögyam Trungpa. 

Trungpa Rinpoche did not limit his teachings to Tibetan Buddhism or any spiritual idiom - even to "spirituality" itself. In a given talk, Trungpa Rinpoche might speak of farming, T.S. Eliot or the understanding of Christian monastics he conversed with in Great Britain. In this video, Henry describes how one of his own passions, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, coincidentally became a link to Chögyam Trungpa.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


When the winter light of the San Francisco Bay Area is at its most heartbreakingly beautiful the atmosphere has been scoured by wind and rain the day before (as it was the day before I took this photograph). The scouring gives a stop sign, side of a warehouse or distant tanker the same exacting definition scissors give to fresh cut hair. The low sunlight mutes these same objects, softening them as if everything is covered in a microscopically thin layer of silk. Colors powder, harmonize and evoke the iconic promise that California is, a sense of well-being one notch shy of stupendous.

On New Year's day (the day after I took this photograph) I walked with my friend  Christine into the view we had from her window: Bayview-Hunter's Point, San Francisco (the view of the photograph). To be exact, our walk took us  to a derelict patch of bayside near a decommissioned coal plant and the tankers anchored beyond it. We saw seagulls, plovers and even a kingfisher hunt the low-tide shoreline, thick with exposed mussels, seaweed, slabs of shattered concrete, rotting tires, chunks of old marble, bottle caps and broken glass. In this hunting ground of rust and detritus we met an artist of infinite sadness, a thirty-eight year old man from Guanajuato Mexico wearing an Oakland Raider's baseball cap.

Porfirio Vasquez spoke to us in very broken English and explained, with the help of newspaper articles about him, the works of art he had created and stood amidst. A working stonemason since he was thirteen, Vasquez had created yards and yards of sculptures from the stones and detritus of this semi-wasteland and bird sanctuary. Iguanas, herons, skeletons made of stones and driftwood. Automobiles made of wire and glass. Abstract stacks of stones. It was the work of a child, of a skilled mason, of an attenuated and lonely semi-genius. Porfirio Vasquez: obsessed, haunted, bringing forth a patch of his own visions; a homeless, Mexican William Blake with an injured left arm. Working perhaps in the service or at the mercy of the dralas.

To say anything more about Porfirio Vasquez or his art would be to speculate. These few paragraphs are a tribute to him - nothing more than a stone tossed into a pond, and the wave it creates no more significant than an echo. But what makes an echo, and what is on the other side of it? These questions are significant. It is the discovery of our own poetry and the imprint it makes on the world that counts a great deal in this sad, lovely and infinitely meaningful cosmos. In this way, Porfirio Vasquez serves as our mirror and walks beside us.

In this journal I am introducing another artist, in this case a website, and the principle person behind it. Dharma Arte is published from Brazil. It is inspired by the dharma art teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. It is published in Portuguese though most articles are also translated into English. It is a bilingual, cross-hemisphere, cross-cultural pollination system and experiment. It is an archive or abode for writings from or information about not only Chögyam Trungpa, but other essential ancestors - some living, some no longer - of the particular post-modern terrain that dharma art is: John Cage, Meredith Monk, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Laurie Anderson. It is a canvas and publication of current practitioners of this terrain, from the well or semi-well known to the anonymous, including the anonymous of the favela.

The prime mover of Dharma Arte is Carlos Inada of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Carlos has worked tireless to launch and keep afloat this bi-lingual and elegant contraption. I will provide occasional links to Dharma Arte in the future, but please check it out for yourself, especially their blog. It is an expression of the creative vastness of the drala principle, as well as a site many readers might like to participate in. This is also the last week of Dharma Arte's annual fundraising drive, and if any of you are inspired to support them in this way, it would of course be welcome.

From George Steiner: Language and Silence, printed in Dharma Arte: In my view, [literature and philosophy] are under threat today. Literature has chosen the domain of small scale personal relationships, and no longer deals with great metaphysical themes. We no longer have writers like Balzac and Zola, geniuses of human comedy who could explore every domain. Proust also created an inexhaustible world, and Joyce’s Ulysses is still very close to Homer… Joyce is the bridge between the two great worlds of classicism and chaos. In the past, philosophy could also claim to be universal. The entire world was open to the thought of a philosopher like Spinoza. Today an immense part of the universe is closed to us... (read more)

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...

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.