Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Oil rig worker near Venice,

Hwy 23, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana

Three weeks ago I decided to spend a week in New Orleans, traveling there after a wedding I was invited to attend in Chicago, and before visiting my son in Portland, Oregon, where I am now. Now I am standing in my son's bathroom (he is still asleep, this is where I can work without disturbing him) before my computer and a large, toothpaste splattered mirror. Now I am left facing myself in the mirror, as one always, so to speak, is. 

Thanks to a comment a reader made, I have changed my usage from oil "spill" to oil catastrophe; a word defined as "an extremely large-scale disaster, a horrible event." I went to New Orleans to, as I wrote a few weeks ago, "investigate" the catastrophe and now I am looking over the photographs, video footage and notes I took in to order assimilate, along with my memories, what I have learned. My body feels distinctly different after the trip. Of course I have aged and of course impermanence is the rule, but a more telling reflection says I have encountered something both symbolically and viscerally potent (like meeting a teacher?) and it is my duty to unfold the symbols and treasure the viscera, to let none of this drop from my hands. 

In sacrifice, the viscera or organs of the slain animal were part of the augury priests were compelled to divine. It strikes me that New Orleans has suffered a double catastrophe, a "natural" one in the form of Katrina and a "man made" one in the form of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Besides 9/11, there are not too many examples of a post WWII American City being devastated by an event. Perhaps ideally a disaster is supposed to decrease hubris and increase sympathy or love. Collectively it may be hard to claim that America is a less proud and more loving country since 9/11, but when I  visited New York City earlier this year I was struck again and again by a kind of exuberant courtesy, an enthusiastically choreographed helpfulness that I encountered from subway attendants to just about anyone I asked anything of in the street. 

Perhaps what I can say that after a week in New Orleans I feel better equipped to understand things I've sought or been committed to for most of my life. I arrived in Louis Armstrong International Airport without a telephone number, without a map, without having investigated websites about the oil catastrophe, without having read a history of New Orleans and without even booking a hotel. I arrived without an education but determined decrease my ignorance. The expertise I gained was only in the experience that unfolded before me, hour by hour and day by day. Everything significant and that seemed to pertain to the oil catastrophe (my expressed purpose) seemed to happen by accident, through double-take or an unexpected glance into the rear-view mirror.

I also tried to take the view (as a practice) that everyone I met, every opinion I encountered, was a part of me. And that I was complicit in everything. I've long been influenced by similar statements of two Buddhist teachers. Thich Nhat Hanh argued that he could easily have been a Thai sea pirate (who stole from, raped and often killed the "boat people" fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975) if he had been born into circumstances that gave rise to piratetry. Pema  Chödrön once asked her audience if there was a parent among them, including herself, who could not understand a child abuser because what parent had never lost their temper, had never shook their child, had never inflicted some degree of emotional or physical violence upon their son or daughter?

Signs in restaurant near
Venice, Louisiana.

slowness, more tears (laughter).

ACCIDENT #1: On a journey to actually see the oil that had just made contact with shore, I bought a map, rented a car and drove to a town that more than one local referred to as  "the end of the world," Venice, a dot on the map at the south end of Hwy 23, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. All the ABC and CNN and other news crews had already been there, but I didn't see a trace of them in the brief time I spent. What I saw was a restaurant with a Harley parked in front, a couple of motels and a tangle of piers, harbors and construction cranes with lots of sheriff patrol cars parked about. The gravel road I followed eventually led to a fence, a keep out sign and a large hanger with the name Hallliburtan on the side. 

Like the returning bodies of solders killed in Iraq that photographers were denied access to until recently, I seemed to be in the symbolic tableau most of our citizens find themselves in. If we think of our country and the global economy as a "family system" there are, naturally, many things the more privileged children  should not be allowed to see. Combat, factory conditions in Juarez and oil coating the white sands of the Louisiana shore must be as off limits as Dad's drawer of racing forms and photographs of his mistress. This impression was amplified later in the day when I stopped to film an oil refinery along the side of Hwy 23. A Sheriff pulled up, questioned me and announced he "had to report me to the FBI." I had ostensibly broken no law, but in the post 9/11 Patriot Act era an oil refinery is a "potential terrorist target" that obliged the Sheriff to conflate my legal act into an interrogation and a final stern warning that he "never wanted to see me on this road again."

Mississippi Delta, Plaquemines Parish,

News reports speak about the "crystal blue waters" of the gulf, as if the spill is is a toxin entirely new to an otherwise unspoiled area, yet scientific studies have long-cited the Mississippi River coast as " the single dirtiest, most imperiled coastal ecosystem on earth." It's not that the river itself is so highly polluted, but it provides continuous flows of nitrogen and phosphorus into the ocean, the vast runoff of chemical fertilizers from American farms which promote algae growth and so greatly decrease the oxygen content of the water that large "dead zone" had been created, no longer able to support marine life. To acknowledge this is in no way to discount the sweeping destruction of the oil spill but to acknowledge the insidious degradation that continuously goes on below the waters surface, often belied by a surface that may still look "crystal blue."

Scott Nixon (University of Rhode Island, USA) explained that this process, known as eutrophication, is not a recent phenomenon, but one that first appeared with the spread of urban sewage networks in the second half of the nineteenth century and has been accelerating sharply since 1970. According to Nixon, “we are seeing a clear global increase in the incidence of hypoxia in coastal ecosystems,” a phenomenon whereby the oxygen concentration in water drops so far that it causes catastrophic mortality among marine organisms. Prof. Nixon went on to add that “there is a relationship between the health damage done by the excessive consumption of meat in developed societies and the health damage done to coastal ecosystems by the massive nitrogen emissions associated with meat production.”- Science Daily

Figure on wall in Kristy's
restaurant, Plaquemines Parish,

Shortly into the eighty-mile drive from Venice back to New Orleans I stopped, somewhat uncertainly, at a restaurant named Kristy's, which consisted of a double-wide mobile home with a single automobile parked in front. Here I spent one of the most remarkable hours of my trip (if not my life) in the company of three oil rig workers and the sole cook and waitress of Kristy's, its proprietress, a black grandmother who called herself "T." T took my order and later talked to me at length with a head-on wit, so gracious, guileless and shrewd that I felt I'd encountered a new and more exhilarating form of love, fast food style (though her fried-food took twenty minutes to prepare). We talked about catfish, her nine grandchildren, the poverty of the region, and her hat, a headpiece to keep her hair out of the food that I found attractive and even elegant but that T claimed made her look like Aunt Jemima - which became the cause of much laughter and the reason she steadfastly refused to let me take her photograph. T agreed with me wholeheartedly when I told her she was lucky to have given love to so many people and had so many people who loved her.

Interior, Kristy's Restaurant.

In truth, everything about my trip down Hwy 23 felt like an accident, including waking up that morning with no idea I would be taking the trip in the first place. But the "accident" I cited earlier was one of a different kind, and a very painful one. Three young men were in the restaurant when I arrived, workers who neither acknowledged my entrance nor gave me the slightest feeling I was intruding. They just sat there, waiting for their food, making an occasional cell phone call and existing in their own familiarity (which included this restaurant). As I acclimatized to a place that was decidedly not familiar to me, I began to realize I should ask to video interview them. I went out to my rental car to fetch my camera with the vague apprehension which  accompanies these sudden decisions to intrude upon strangers.

I returned from my car, introduced myself and learned the men's names were Lester, Cory and Wallace. I told them I was making a film about the oil spill and water issues. I asked if I could interview them and their collective response was a willing shrug. "Why not?" Lester replied. And so I asked each a few questions and took about five minutes of footage. I wouldn't be writing about any of this, expect for the "accident." It turned out, something I learned only days later, that the audio didn't record. I ended up with video footage that had no sound. I could have lost my camera and hardly given it a second thought, but I grimaced all day that I had lost this footage, because it was exactly what I had hoped the trip would bring. I realized that all I could do was post some stills to this journal and let the photographs speak for themselves.




"7,000 Miles Nonstop, and No Pretzels"

The three photographs below and the headline above are from a New York Times article published last Tuesday, May 25th. Scientists are now able to plant transmitting devices in birds that migrate over vast distances, from the Arctic Circle, say, to as far south as Australia. It was assumed the birds flew over land and made many pit stops along the way. But the transmitters have shown otherwise. The bar-tailed godwit leaves Alaska and flies nonstop over 7,100 miles of ocean to New Zealand. Researchers in Alaska also observed, "the godwits were feasting on clams and worms as if they were not going to be able to eat for a very long time."

Bar-Tailed Godwit.

Arctic Tern.

Bristled-Thighed Curlew.

Restaurant in Venice, Louisiana.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Wall, New Orleans


The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. H.D. Thoreau from the essay, Walking.
"It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own." - Ralph Waldo Emerson on his friend Henry David Thoreau.
Walking is like writing in that each is a narrative, a collection of images one notices or is sometimes impaled upon. Walking, say, from one end of the airline terminal to the other entails countless decisions, small and barely conscious left and right turns, people we look at or choose not to, the way a thought influences the hunch of our shoulder or whether we are able to smile when asked for our photo I.D. The narrative of that walk is a never to be repeated and soon to be forgotten memory of it, though not memory as something vanished we might later recall, but the lingering, intangible atmosphere of it, how it felt to us and - a question we seldom ask! - how we felt to it.

Space and its atmosphere, its living flavor that we co-create with it, is what we walk though. Writing is the reconstruction of images and atmosphere, a selective process, a subjective chaos given an identity the writer discovers through writing. Thus walking and writing are practice

 Near Paris Ave. and Robert E. Lee,
New Orleans.

Friday, 14-May: After I fetched my suitcase from baggage claim, I exited Chicago's Midway International airport through a corridor that took me past a series of photographs taken by telescopes, some earthbound others in  orbit, such as the Hubbel. The photos were all compelling but none more so than the picture of our earth, with the Gulf of Mexico vividly in view and free of clouds. I was going there, to "witness the oil spill" to be in a place where the consciousness of many of us has become impaled, the oil spill a blunt reality and symbolic spear penetrating many issues and conflicts.

North America.

Even though I am traveling by bus, airplane, taxi and subway, I am still walking to New Orleans. That is the way I am experiencing it, that is the narrative I am choosing to live and write about: various parts commitment, compromise, hypocrisy and paradox. I am committed to writing and filming about issues of environmental sanity, social justice and the "awake" potential of each individual. Yet every plastic bag I use and throw away, destined for land-fill or the world's oceans, is an act of environmental insanity. Even heating my home is a profligate use of the world's finite natural gas reserves and a contribution to global warming. Nearly every activity a so-called middle-class person engages in is positioned somewhere between compromise and hypocrisy (perhaps the very definition of karma?).

Statues in front of house,
New Orleans.

To underscore this equation, I received an e-mail from a reader of my Journal who is also a friend. Her opinion of me is also my opinion of myself, certainly from one corner of the paradox.
There is one thing that stopped me in my tracks this morning and that is, after many references to flying here and there all over the world to write about it, that you are going to fly to New Orleans to witness the oil spill. This is something I cannot understand about almost everyone around me. WHY ARE YOU FLYING? WHY ARE YOU DRIVING? If you care so much about oil spills, why are you using so much oil flying here and there? This is something I've come up against in the ecological world and bird-watching world. The very ones proclaiming how much they care about something are the very ones destroying it. Forgive my rant -- I have become allergic to hypocrisy.
The e-mail offers a chance to establish a "madhyamika" (the Buddhist method of examination the reveals phenomena to be empty of "self-nature" by exposing  the extremes of eternalism and nihilism to be equally invalid) for our actions and deeply held unconscious beliefs. The following incomplete list is merely a starting point for this argument.
1. In our use of precious resources (gasoline, water, paper) do we consider how they have come to us and for what purpose (creative, kind, mindless, useless) we using them?
2. Do we feel entitled to our wealth? That we somehow have the right to it, an attitude which might be a "primitive belief" (Gampopa), a very dull appreciation of Indra's net.

3. Have we examined our "first-word privilege," that if we own a passport and have  the money to travel, for instance, we are infinitely more privileged that most of our neighbors on this planet. There is tremendous potential and power for good or indifference in the exercise of our privilege. 

4. Setting-sun, as Chögyam Trunga defined it, is a life and lifestyle oriented to seeking pleasure, comfort and convenience. Great Eastern Sun, on the other hand, is a life that "attracts the dralas" by staring into nowness, seeing the simple yet unfathomable demand that the moment makes upon us, a coil of fearless, loving and intelligent awake
 Girl on Metra, Chicago.

 Shoes on Metra, Chicago.


Immigration is "the introduction of new people into a habitat or population" and is therefore another word for walking. My three-day Chicago walkabout led me from Midway to a hotel on the Chicago River to a wedding, a visit to the Art Institute

I went out looking for breakfast later in the morning and turned right rather than left on Armitage Avenue. One block later the neighborhood became a primarily Mexican one, of recent immigrants, "legal" and "illegal," from south of the U.S. border. I entered a grocery of astonishingly low prices and few signs in English. When I've traveled in Mexico I've felt embraced by the warmth of the Mexican people but in the grocery I encountered the same  body-language I often do back in Boulder among my Mexican neighbors. A hesitation to make eye contact, a slightly noticeable hunch of the shoulders, a closing in, a making oneself slightly shorter, less visible, a movement to avoid radar that is also a shield. I am perceived as an agent of the less welcome side of America, its law, politics and still primarily white power base, and in detecting this my own body tightens into a stiff nonchalance (as if such a thing were possible). Once inside, say, a restaurant and engaged in conversation, our smiles come out, but there is naturally or potentially still a distance.

Shop, Chicago

Worker, Chicago.

Like viewing a body of water, seeing the surface but not the depths which tell us so much more about it, humanity is also fluid, with untold, unseen currents that hold truths headlines obscure. The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1993. Headlines promised improvements for the American economy and a massive lifting out of poverty for Mexicans. But the agreement overrode local and national environmental laws and opened the way for U.S. agribusiness to flood the Mexican economy with cheap corn, which rapidly wiped out the livelihood of 2.5 million farmers and only fueled a desperate need to migrate el norte. During the booming economy Mexicans were essential to our labor force (still are). Just as our body has a skin to repel the other, countries create borders to keep the other out and/or keep us in (borders that are also fluid; before 1848, Mexico ended just south of Casper, Wyoming) and immigration laws are obviously necessary. But the future promises rising ocean waters  that may force millions from coastal cities, as well as food crisis and water shortages. The kind of migrations we will see in the future are inconceivable. What kind of walls will we have? What kind of neighbor will each country be? Who will be the other?"

Store window, Chicago.

This advertisement for money transfer services in a store window on Amritage Avenue, signifies a kind of caring I can only admire. It is not in the fees, often steep, a company like Sigue charges to wire transfer funds, but in the $13 billion (a 2003 figure) sent annually by migrant workers in the U.S. back to their families in Mexico. The beautiful, selfless goodness of it. And probably the only way many survive the emotional hardship of being alone and undocumented in a foreign country, for who would chose such a life willingly unless driven by economic necessity?


After three days of being in New Orleans, I am finally writing about it. I have passed through the membrane of arriving as pure neophyte, a man who'd never set foot in the Deep South, and now know the look of Bourbon Street and Lake Pontchartrain. Names that entered me in the years since Katrina have now become tangible, such as the Ninth Ward, which I walked through yesterday in blazing heat to discover odd juxtapositions of the derelict and gentrified. Some houses boarded and rotting from the inside out, others seamlessly puttied and coated in glowing Sherman Williams latex paint. I stopped to film two young people on the porch of their house, white, tattooed, with a flask in a brown bag they were sharing; the young woman from California with the look a a runaway and the young man a native with a dog named Grimace. The man had grown up in New Orleans and agreed with me that everything here was beautiful, from this semi-wasted Ward to all the other concentric rings of the city.

 Wall, New Orleans.

I stopped at another porch, five young black women (though one was a grandmother) and a couple of under four-year-olds. The accepted me with the same good-humored tolerance that people in Cambodia would; some fool with a camera and an indeterminate purpose. I began the interview and, like a fool, later realized I hadn't pressed the video record button. I lost a thirty second statement by an eighteen year-old named Jasmine who, when I asked how it has been since Katrina, replied with a heart-breaking simple, gentle, plaintive candor, "It's been real hard and it's still real sad so many are gone." I asked her about the "so many" and in her case both her cat and grandmother were drowned in the flooding. Plus the rents are going up and the water around and under them seems poisoned.

Corner building, Ninth Ward, New Orleans.

In the membrane between neophyte and experience ("neophyte" also means an adult convert to Christianity; I have converted to falling in love with New Orleans) I am often in bewilderment, often hot and lonely, penetrated by an emerging but still confused sense of why I came here and for what purpose. I could have learned as much or more about the oil spill simply by staying at home and researching the Internet. In general, people here know only a little bit more than the rest of us, it is still abstract, tangible only through newspapers and television. The oil spill is moving closer and has now made contact with the shores of Louisiana. Fishermen are already effected, restaurant workers know they soon will be. I sense that whatever I "learn" or "experience" will be secondary to a feeling that is already upon me, that I have moved closer into the global calamity.

Cross, Ninth Ward, New Orleans.

I am seeking to understand the oil spill in terms of the drala principle, which is a three-fold understanding, one that cannot found in a single newspaper or a single web-site. The three-fold drala principle is taking responsibility for our state of mind, state of body, state of the world. Responsibility for our state of mind means our attitude, our "secret" intention (one that cannot be seen by others, only felt) such as how we hold others in our heart (heart and mind being the same). Responsibility for our body means how we treat, dress and experience it. It is not a set of puritanical guidelines (though rules can play a part) but one of extending awareness to our body so that body and mind "talk" to each other,  are joined. For example, a smile joins body and mind (as well as self and other). Responsibility for the world means we become aware of our effect upon it, that we take responsibility for decreasing harmful effects and increasing beneficial ones. Responsibility brings joy, love, and hardship, it is like raising a child.

Prayer Flags, French Quarter, New Orleans

We can only make this three-fold commitment by realizing that body, mind and world are all equally "alive" and are one. This is a "spiritual" solution to the issues of war and environmental destruction. This is a spiritual approach to survival.

Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans.

A floating glob of garbage, debris and
pollution, Lake Pontchartrain.

I am here to live within these premises as much as I can, to test them, become their experiment, to shed preconceive ideas and cut through the ever-arising array of my petty mind occupations; fear and contraction, self-abasement, naivety, blatant distraction and vanity. As in Chicago, here I received an e-mail that entered and altered my narrative. It is from another reader of my Journal,  Jeff Krouk, someone I have only recently met, on line, who reads my Journal, who has a website (with rare and fantastic footage of early Chögyam Trunga) and who wrote: 

The oil spill is a black swan event. its important that you are there. Very "naga serious." The spill is not really a spill. They busted a geologic artery. The spec's for the equipment that failed was not built to handle what happened and is now in progress. This is as big a deal as the financial meltdown and it is all playing into the same configuration of collapse and social unwinding we are experiencing... Within 3 years of Chernobyl the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR was gone. In three years the US may not be gone but we may not recognize it. If you can see the web cam images some of the web sites are running from the well head you can see what a catastrophe this is in real time with no end in sight. Even with all the news about the blowout continuing it still is being suppressed by omission and  coverage of other far less important events. - Jeff Krouk

Naga heads on path to shrine,
Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Body of Nagas, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Nagas are snake-headed beings, found in the mythology and religions of India and Southeast Asia, and are associated with water. The Shambhala teachings speak of "The Great Lu, Tsugna Rinchen" who might be considered a "mere" naga or potentially obstructing spirit in orthodox Tibetan Buddhism, but as a drala, Tsugna Rinchen represents the elemental wisdom principle of lu, which are the lowest elevations within any particular geography, hence where rivers and wetlands are, the domain of water. If one embraces water as being - or a being - then nagas (or Tsugna Rinchen, or any name that any tradition gives to water beings) are those who we participate with, as they participate with us (who also are largely water).

The only way I have found to "participate" with Tsugna Rinchen or the dralas of water is to go blank. "To have the capacity," as Ibn Arabi puts it, "to become a mother of what it presented." This is a very simple extension of meditation or resting the mind. In "going blank" (for lack of another term) one surrenders pre-conceived ideas and instead tunes in to space and the atmosphere of space, the intangible that surrounds us (as awareness, dralas, God). "Becoming a mother" means that space tells us what do do, (and what not to do)  and we give birth to that, which is manifestation.

Plastic bottle with oil. Photograph
of a newspaper photograph,
Times Picayune.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"The ones that bring us the life force"

Cat's Eye.
This object reflects a stage of evolution our own sun will experience in several billion years. When a sun-like star begin to run out of fuel, it sheds some of its outer layers while leaving behind a white-hot core.


In 2004 I began a mode of life that is still occurring, one of travel (a mode which occurs even if travel is only to the mailbox) and one in which I felt I was becoming the "experiment of my own art." Beginning that year I had the privilege to travel internationally and it was always bodies of water that most attracted me: the River Arno; the Bosporus, the Mekong. Without necessarily intending to, I returned home with a far greater appreciation of water, so much so that I could barely stand to "waste" it and for a while carried my dish water to the garden rather than letting it simply go down the drain. 

In 2007 I read the book Water Wars by Vandana Shiva. In the preface I discovered this poem, which I committed to memory and have recited aloud nearly every morning since then:

Waters, you are the ones that bring us the life force.
Help us to find nourishment,
So we may look upon great joy.
Let us share in the most delicious sap you have,
As if you are loving mothers,
Let us go straight to the house of the one,
For whom you waters give us life and give us birth.
For our well-being, let the goddesses be an aid to us,
Let the waters be for us to drink.
Let them cause well-being and health to flow over us.
Mistresses of all the things that are chosen,
Rulers over all peoples,
The waters are the ones I beg for a cure.
Waters - yield your cure as an armor for my body,
So I may look upon the sun for a long time.
Waters - carry away all of this that has gone bad in me.
Either that I have done in malicious deceit,
Or whatever lie I have sworn to,
I hear sort the waters today.
We have joined with their sap,
Oh Agni, full of moisture,
Come and flood me with splendor!

The Ancient Rig Veda Hymn, Water of Life

In the fall of 2008, when I was completing my film, Denise: Circle of Blessing I took footage of water near my home, not simply as B-roll shots (which I never ended up using anyway) but as a form of healing; my mother had died in April and a month later I began to film the last three months of Denise Thornton's life. I edited the footage into a three-minute film that I narrated with the, Water of Life.

Prayer to Water from Bill Scheffel on Vimeo.


I am now in the third day of a twenty-day trip and writing from the twenty-eighth floor of a Chicago hotel. I was invited here over a year ago to attend the wedding of a friend and former student. A little over a week ago, I decided to abandon my return ticket back to Boulder and instead fly to New Orleans, so I could witness the oil spill there, come into its proximity, enter more fully into the narrative of pain. On Monday I will arrive there (thanks to aircraft and jet fuel). On Friday, I began the writing, photographic and video journal I intend this trip to be and am sharing here in its first installment.

In a long corridor leading from the terminal to the Orange Line train stop at Midway International Airport I came upon a series of photographs of our home, the universe. My wits, though dulled from the plane flight were still sharp enough to say: Stop, take pictures of these pictures!

Lagoon Nebula
So large and bright it can me seen without a 
telescope near the constellation Sagittarius.

Butterfly Nebula
3,700 light years from home.

The seventh planet from the sun.

2006 Cassini spacecraft photograph
as it passed behind the planet.

North America

I was hoping, quite wholeheartedly actually, quite wholeheartedly, that the drala principle would descend on you and become part of you... They are longing to meet you... 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.Chögyam Trungpa

Below is a very worthwhile interview with James Cameron director of Avatar on "evoking external drala" and restoring environmental sanity. View below or on the Democracy Now website. 

Friday, May 7, 2010


To begin this week, I'd like to invite you to consider writing on any of the subjects on this journal. Normally a "blog response" is an opinion about a topic; not that I don't welcome any response, but the idea of "writing" is slightly different, "You will write not if you think of writing as a result but as a discovery" (Gertrude Stein). Writing is about your contribution, your experience, and the freedom to offer that. 

Next, another video segment from an interview Cathy Hubiak and I conducted with Kunga Dawa (Richard Arthure).

Kunga Dawa on "transmissions" from Chögyam Trungpa from Bill Scheffel on Vimeo.

Drala “is the notion of personal bravery” (Chögyam Trungpa). Whenever we transcend fear we potentially invoke drala, which initiates a process of further bravery and protection from fear. This is not a magical notion in any esoteric sense, but simply a natural unfolding. The process is one of recognizing the non-conceptual and unconditional nature of experience, relating to the expressions that arise from the unconditioned ground, and opening to the coincidences that present themselves in daily life (and which are daily life).

Photo by Don Myer

The drala principle is:
H U G E   C H O I C E   E A C H   M O M E N T
A natural prayer or meditation practice:
1. Gaze at the sky.
2. Gaze at what is "below" the sky.
3. Gaze at what is in one's mind (or heart).
"Gaze" means don't just go on thinking, though don't try not to think, simply  become aware. 

People think, think, think; in all directions, but they think. The questioning gaze is rare. - Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Photo by Bill Scheffel

The drala principle spans theism, non-theism and the secular. The drala principle is experienced by those on the path of God, those of non-theistic faiths as well as in "secular" experience.

There is no difference between theism and non-theism, basically speaking. Declaring an involvement with any kind of “ism” turns out to be a matter of self and other. In fact, the whole question of self and other can then become very important. But if you really pursue any spiritual path, you will discover, surprisingly, that self and other are one thing. Self is other, other is self... Whether you worship someone else or worship yourself, it is the same thing…      Chogyam Trungpa. Speaking of Silence, pg. 153

Another aspect of any "ism" is that it is a thought, a held concept. Whereas non-thought is the gate of the dralas, that moment of atmosphere and immediate perceptual communication. I've spent a few nights watching a New Video documentary of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who seemed to always click the camera shutter the moment the gate was open. There was footage of Cartier-Bresson shooting; he wandered around very casually, with the camera in one hand behind him, somewhat hidden. Others on the street were looking at where they were going whereas he looked at what was happening. 

slowness, more tears, WATER

Waters, you are the ones that bring us the life force.
Help us to find nourishment,
So we may look upon great joy.

           - Rig Veda Hymn, Water of Life

Below are more photographs from my friend Don Myer (gassho!). The first three were taken at Coney Island, the last one at Fort Funston, San Francisco (if you click on them you will see them enlarged).



Environmental sanity. Is there a disconnect between our "spiritual" lives and "activism" or taking individual responsibility for collective problems? Collective experience is the cumulative wave of each our our "karmic" contributions (regardless of how "spiritual" we are). Thus the oil spill in The Gulf is a collective fault, a collective horror, a collective challenge, a collective responsibility (could the latter become possible)? 

The drala principle teachings (so to speak) attract me because they provide a link between spiritual, social and environmental responsibility.

In the spirit of this theme, I offer you a video interview with the journalist Charles Bowden on his book, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields. Bowden addresses many political issues - NAFTA, the war on drugs, immigration, gun control - but I offer it also as entertainment. What we take the time to see should at least be interesting in its own right, no? Charles Bowden is interesting. He has dug deeply into these issues, lives them, has been warped by them, has something to say, a kind of film noir Mother Teressa. The piece offers one person's researched description of a "collective karma."

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now website.