30 October 2008

artists for ahimsa

A note from Gandhiland to Mangoland. The famous Sonia de Otto, our dear sister, is holding a

"SynergicTraining Seminar for Artists of Ahimsa"

(english | spanish)


Like everything Sonia does, it should blow all of our minds. Do go if you happen to be in Gujarat this December...

~ ankur

29 October 2008

diwali greeting

it's the indian new year, or one of them, and i don't particularly know what to do other than what my elders tell me. this time it was, predictably, calling my elders ("superiors") and asking for blessings. which i find altogether natural, so yesterday night and today my mother and i spent a couple hours on the phone dialing india and new jersey and california and texas, calling on uncles and aunts and flute teachers and cousins and jayeshbhais (mentors) and friends and brothers and sisters.

it was incredible. pleasing. a rush. high. maybe from all the blessings. i had a vision of what hallmark, in its heart of hearts, beyond all the corporatism and commerce, is really aspiring towards. what if on national secretary appreciation day we really went and visited or called all the secretaries we ever knew, thanked them, and asked for their blessings and best wishes for the coming lunar year. lunacy. lunocracy. philocracy.

getting closer.

there was some sadness too in the long dark house with the sliding doors pointed south towards snow-covered peaks. warm days and clear nights in late october (as predicted). it's gorgeous september weather. perfect for scything and coming home to mulled appled cider. my mom had lit a few candles after the cooking class calmed down and i realized only when going to bed that Diwali is the festival of lights and lighting a candle is an integral part of the ritual. i can only imagine the other parts. big feasts and visiting families, special dishes and all night dances. it's big news everytime i go to india, six months before and after the party. and here we had a couple of sad vanilla candles and no dancing and no drumming and no flirting and certainly no marriages being planned. to the relatives' collective dismay.

so i recalled my cousin telling me it was only proper to make a "rangoli" (that is, a sort of intricate design) out of flowers, in the shape of an om, and place candles around and within it. so, in a desperate act of acculturation, i tenderly tore all the red flowers off my mother's only flowering houseplant, and assembled them into an anemic om on the checked tablecloth. with a vanilla candle a little to the left.

we're all doing the best we can. at home and in the hospital. for the new year, the new light, and the new love.

i just saw a patient, slightly confused (we say "demented" in the hospital). he thought we were in portland and was reminiscing for that great harborview hospital back in seattle. he said his son just left a 5-10 year career in a national professional sports league and was now a chaplain. we should talk. and he loves gandhi. he even told me "I love that man. Gandhi has a big heart. Like a lion.". And he was proud "Most people follow [Gandhi's] philosophy, his theology. All the American Presidents. Like Martin Luther King Junior."

I'd be proud, too. I'm proud that most people are into the Love if you have the angle light and the shimmering glare of ego and suffering don't blind you to what's really going on. I'm proud of the work everybody in this hospital is doing, proud of lovers driving each other to separation and partnership at airports, at comings and goings which reveal the strength of the ties below.

Blessed are the filmmakers and the rappers (you'll see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of5OJpEladg)
Blessed are those who cook for the homeless and the winos
Blessed are those who imitate the shadows and those who seek the flame.

After a short lifetime of worshiping the beauties of freedom and choice, independence and aspiration, I came yesterday face to face with the gorgeous surrender to duty. A woman thousands of miles away asked me to visit a friend of hers -- just because we're both in the same state, hours and busy schedules apart -- and I shocked myself at being So Damn Eager to perform the slightest service, to honor this woman who had treated me so well, took me in as a hungry son, taught me how to sort mangos. You get the idea. As Vanessa says in her yoga teacher training, "I stand ready to obey your least command".

ready and willing here we are. festival of vanilla candles and wilted pink flowers. doing the best we can. a poem to end with, that i read earlier to the gentleman over there:

(by Mary Oliver, from _Thirst_)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird --  equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.


17 October 2008

a poem by becca hall



They declared war tonight. Already

guns assemble in that desert far away.

And here where it is raining good California rain,

here where spring knocks at the ground's door,

eager, nervous, bringing flowers; here,

where the air swoons with roses, wearing jasmine

in her hair, I wish I could say to you, Love me.


We've gone walking.  It is night.

Street lights make hollows for the rain

to fall through, and even the cars

spray as gently as your hand would feel

in mine. But your hands are your own

and you have made them fists.

One thing we agree – this night is no place

for war. The question: our part.


Violence has its time, you say,

speaking I think of some righteous

revolution.  Everything its season.

I say, look at the buds just forming

on the thorn branch.  Look how we walk

as if we love each other.  How tender

the night is, each light a silver armful.


All across the sidewalk the snails come,

woken by rain, leaving moon-trails

over the damp concrete, seeking each other. 

They are so many, I cannot keep

from crushing them.  Their shells shatter

under each guilty, tender foot.

03 October 2008

the prison/hospital/ashram context

This morning I got to see a patient who needed medical care during her
time at the King County Jail. There's a hell of a story but the
important parts is that she is smart enough to be writing books about
her life instead of living it. She meditates when she's not too
connected to the vices to do so, so I'm going to bring her one of the
little books on meditation that Reverend Heng Sure gave me a few
months ago, at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. And then I remembered
this passage from Vinoba and couldn't help typing it up...

Prison Life

It was in jail that I experienced real Ashram life. All I had were a
few clothes, a tumbler and a bowl. What place could there be for
following the vow of 'non-possession'? Bathing, eating, working were
according to rule, going to bed and getting up by the bell -- a
perfectly regular life! One was not even allowed to fall ill! The vow
of control of the palate was practiced every day; even the Ashram was
not a better place for that. There was also plenty of time for thought
and reflection. So even the jail could be made a part of the spiritual
exercise of Ashram life.

I was even given a period of solitary confinement in a cell measuring
nine feet by eight. In one corner was a stone hand-mill and in another
an earthenware piss-pot. There was no work to do, no book to read, no
pencil or paper, no chance even to go out. It was enough to drive a
man mad.

However, I drew up a daily timetable for myself: ten hours for sleep,
two or three hours for meditation, about three hours for eating,
bathing etc., and eight hour for walking up and down. I covered at
least ten miles each day, reckoning my speed at about one and a half
miles an hour. As I walked I sang all the hymns I knew by heart.

Once I was pacing to and fro like this at about one o'clock at night,
engrossed in thought. The warder came on his rounds, and puzzled at
seeing me walking about, he knocked on the door. As I was completely
absorbed I failed to respond, and the poor man became alarmed. He came
in and shook me and asked me what was the matter. I tried to explain
what I was doing and what the fruits of such contemplation might be,
and he was very pleased. The very next day I receive a real boon - he
arranged for me to walk a short time daily in an open place.

I felt quite at ease in that cell. During the night I would meditate
for about three hours, and one of the warders, who noticed this, would
come and sit near me. One day he came with a lantern, and found that
my eyes were closed. After waiting for some time he said: 'Babuji, may
I speak to you?' I opened my eyes and he said: 'I am leaving tomorrow.
Please give me some teaching to guide me.' Seeing me sitting every day
with closed eyes he thought me some sadhu or yogi. So I gave him a few
suggestions to satisfy him, and he went away happily.
I was kept in that cell for fifteen days, and during that time I
realized the meaning of that verse in the Gita, which says: 'One who
sees non-action in action, and action in non-action, is truly an
enlightened being.' Finally, seeing that solitary confinement was no
hardship for me, the gaoler sent me back to the 'general ward', and
there too I felt equally happy.

In 1932 I was in Dhulia jail for six months. Many of my companions
there found jail life very dull, because they had not learned the art
of acceptance, and were feeling very rebellious. I decided that it was
my job to cheer them all up. There was no question of seeking pardon
or release from the Government, so I set to work to help them not to
lose heart, and to find some interest in life in jail.

During that time of imprisonment I had to take it on myself to control
all the political prisoners; conditions were such that if I had not
done so there would have been no discipline at all. They were bent
upon rebellion and would listen to nobody. There were about three
hundred of them, all 'freedom-fighters'. In my view, a solider of
freedom ought to do some bodily labour every day as part of the
discipline of freedom. The jail discipline was to require every
prisoner to grind thirty-five pounds of flour a day. I told the
authorities that these political prisoners would refuse to do such
work in obedience to an order, even if they were put in iron for
disobedience. 'Please don't insist on it,' I said. 'Instead, we will
voluntarily supply the whole prison with all the flour this needed,
and we will take responsibility for all the kitchen work also.' They
agreed to this proposal, so my next job was to tackle the prisoners.
Everyone, I said, ought to grind at least twenty-one pounds of flour
daily. They did not all agree at once because they suspected that I
might be letting them in for something which I would not do myself.
But when they saw me grinding, they all began to work
enthusiastically, old and young, seniors and juniors. They not only id
their own full quota, they ground also for the sick and the aged. As
we worked we talked, discussing ideas and extending our knowledge. The
place was no longer, a jail; it became an Ashram.

- Vinoba Bhave, from "Moved by Love"

and with reference to the "new" financial crisis

doug henwood's book _wall street_ is now available online in it's entirety. it's the best anything i've read about the function of the modern financial markets. and well-written to boot.

you can support mr. henwood and download the book here, and another copy of the pdf might even be magically attached to this post.

one world economy,

02 October 2008

happy gandhi, birthday

The Guilty One (Pablo Neruda, from _The Hands of Day_)

I declare myself guilty of never having
fashioned, with these hands I was given,
a broom.

Why did I not make a broom?

Why was I given hands at all?

What purpose did they serve
if I saw only the rumor of the grain,
if I had ears only for the wind
and did not gather the thread
of the broom,
still green on the earth,
and did not lay the tender stalks out to dry
and was not able to unite them
in a golden bundle
or attach a wooden cane
to the yellow skirt
so I had a broom to sweep the paths.

So it was:
I do not know how
I lived m life
without learning, without seeing,
without gathering and uniting
those elements.

At this hour I cannot deny
I had the time,
but not the hands,
and so, how could I aspire
with my mind to greatness
and not be capable
of making
a broom,
not one,

* * *

That's for you Gandhi. And for the importance of sweeping away the old egos that pile up within us, of purifying within and without, of joining hands "to raise the lowliest" and adopt the work we fear most.

When I go back to Sequim in a couple of days, I will make a gift to accompany this poem. I will try to make a broom.

the hands of the night

It's my second night in a row on call and the shell has begun to crack a little bit. I kind of knew this would happen so I gave notice at the farm earlier this week and in general am going to try to put my commitments on a crash diet (with the same implications -- they will revive immediately of course) so I can focus more on Chaplaincy. It's one month into the program and I feel very half-way.

Half-way to nowhere and everywhere at once. The essence of the long-distance relationship. Or commute. Whatever. Three days in Seattle and two in Sequim the other two fall somewhere in between. And I feel half-captivated by this experience and half-repulsed by this environment; The hospital seems a whole lot less healthy than the mountains...

But I'm committed, I know that much. Not in the psych-ward sense, necessarily, but in that I know there's a reason I'm swimming here in exploration, and I have no intention of calling the test off. It's fabulous getting to know the city and its people again, spending so much time around people so sick, so connected to AIDS and IV drug use, and long histories of sadness. I learn so much.

Today I went to see a woman who didn't look like she would be going much further. She was small and dark black and frail and dying of abbreviations I haven't yet understood. And she wanted to pray and was laughing through the tubes in her face and had an ease (nothing dis- about it) of movement and smile and faith in the Good Lord. So we lifted our hearts in prayer to the Good Lord and I held her small hands in mind and she chorused every prayer I gave with hoots and hollers and hallelujah. I could feel the inspiration, had no idea what I was asking or thanking her Lord, but it just kept coming. A climactic AMEN at the end and shaking and shivering and she told right then she could FEEL the holy spirit. Feel it. And there she was, dying with the AIDS and everything, and perhaps more hopeful and confident than I have ever been.

Those were the first hands of the night.
Then I went upstairs to follow-up with a patient from last night, a teacher recovering from a disastrous collision. He watched a friend die and we're talking about her upcoming memorial service. It's the first time I forgot to bring the flute and I finally meet someone who would really appreciate it. So I bring the copy Reed gave me of Neruda's _Hands of the Day_ and start reading, in English. The patient loves it, ignores the TV and closes his eyes, keeps asking me to read more. So we go through the stars and the guilt and the use of the days. As I leave he pulls my proffered hand down to the cot for a giant hug. No greater love, no greater mercy, no greater reward.

And Neruda says:

O sun full of fingernails,
animal of gold, bumblebee,
sheepdog of the world,
our going astray,
we have arrived, we return,
we are already waiting
all together
in the corral of day.
Say we disobeyed that night,
say we left it to the sleep of the moon
to solve the mourning and the planets,
say we withdraw into ourselves,
into our own skin hungry
for love and a meal,
we again are
in the sheepfold,
your long spatulas of light,
your fingers that reach into everything,
your cohabitation of seed.

Soon everyone set about moving,
hurrying. Citizen,
the day is short and there the sun is like a bull
kicking in the sand:
hurry in search of your shovel,
your lever,
your kneading trough,
your thermometer,
your whistle,
your paintbrush or your scissors,
your plaster,
your freight elevator, your political bureau,
your potatoes at the market:
hurry, Ma'am, hurry
over here, this way, put your hands to good use,
we are running out of daylight.

The sun, with stakes, pierced joy,
hope, suffering,
it traveled from one side to the other with its rays
parceling out, attributing lands,
and everyone has to sweat
before it leaves
with its light for somewhere else
to begin and begin again,
while those on this side remained
motionless, sleeping
until Monday morning.

back at harborview

on the way here, on the commute (tending towards epic) across three buses, one ferry, and thirty blocks, i have been reading a book by richard seltzer entitled "letters to a young doctor". there's a lot going on with this older surgeon writing about the beauty and terror of the profession, but it's this passage that seems to mirror Vinoba that i'd like to share... a passage that, I would opine, is true for a great many people and professions outside of surgeons and surgery...

It is so difficult for a surgeon to remain "unconscious," retaining the clarity of vision of childhood, to know and be secure in his ability, yet be unaware of his talents. It is almost impossible. There are all too many people around him paying obeisance, pandering, catering, beaming, lusting. Yet he must try.

It is not enough to love your work. Love of work is a kind of self-indulgence. You must go beyond that. Better to perform endlessly, repetitiously, faithfully, the simplest acts, like trimming the toenails of an old man. By so doing, you will not say _Here I am_, but _Here It Is_. You will not announce your love but will store it up in the bodies of your pateitns to carry with them wherever they go.


Alexander the Great had a slave whose sole responsibility was to whisper "Remeber, you are mortal" when he grew too arrogant. Pehraps every surgeon shold be assigned such a deflator. The surgeon is the mere instrument which the patient takes in his hand to heal himself. An operation, then, is a time of revelation, both physical and spiritual, when, for a little while, the secrets of the body aer set forth to be seen, to be touched, and the surgeon himself is laid open to Grace.

This bit about "love of your work" is what I've been so amazed by the few and true workers I've seen on this planet -- they have dissovled the boundaries between being and doing such that there appears to be no work, no worker. A prodigious ratio of happening to effort and worry. And it reminds me, too, of Gandhi's words about Vinoba -- how he could do so much, how he could do anything, because he let God shoulder all his burdens...

Meanwhile, on the home front, I am still very slowly and carefully going about this learning, this work. There is a lot of subject and object going on here, like the first few times one uses a hoe, slow deliberate movements full of fear at killing a desired plant. It's full of too much unneeded weight and effort. It's full of missed spots, practical perspectival lacunae. I know the scene. Today I jumped a bit, sharpened my tools, by hanging out at a nurses station. Talking like a human being, joking and unstifled by my tie and office. We joked until I pulled out the on-call pager to show them the number, and it rang.

So I went to see a gentleman who knew he wasn't yet feeling the trauma he experienced. And he was worried he would get surprised, blindsided and thrown into the water like the vehicle that hit him. I'm always so impressed. Impressed at the awareness of the patients -- the woman who asked me if she should commit suicide and immediately answered herself, knowing that God wouldn't approve, that her heart whispered "no". I'm so blessed to be there with these humans as they heal, as they heal deeply not just from their acute ailments, but from the years and memories and guilts and sorrows that have built up to throw them in this sterile beeping prison of compassion...

01 October 2008

a salutation, a namaste, of sorts

a friend sends me these lines from ezra pound:
O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.