Art and Culture

Street Closings/Nuclear Summit (and perspective)

On Friday, we received an email from the Office of Personnel Management that strongly suggested federal workers be given permission to take annual leave (foregoing the opportunity to take vacation on another day during the year) or telework due to the number of street and metro closings for the nuclear summit. I will be walking into work today and am hoping I won’t have any detours.  Although some of the entrances to my building are closed, my usual entrance is supposed to be open.

What happens when we have one of these events that fills DC with the world’s potentates, is that residents tend to forget the purpose of the event and what power for good or ill the event can have because we get caught up in its interference with our ability to go about our daily work and life.  I am trying to focus on the import of why the streets are being closed — it is hard to think of a world issue that is as important as global nuclear disarmament — and not the inconvenience.


John Friend on “The Art of Feedback”

I recently had a project that I did in connection with an organization of which I am a member.  The ultimate goal of the project was for me to transmit to another group a report of decisions made by the organization of which I am a member.  When I emailed my report, I “cc’d” my organization’s list serve.  In response, there were a few heated postings on the list serve about the subject matter, even though I had sent a “cc” of a final report, not a request for new input.  These postings in turn generated a number of emails both sent to me personally and postings on the list serve as a whole.  The “secondary” emails were as much about how we were responding and communicating on the list serve, as they were about the subject matter itself.

It was hard for me to soften and to listen without defensiveness the emails that were well-intentioned, but stated strong opinions that could have been interpreted as suggesting the report was wrong or inadequate.  As I made an effort to finish my project from a place of service, which in my mind included appropriately addressing the after-the-fact postings and emails, I was deeply grateful for the teaching John Friend had offered last year to the Anusara yoga community on “The Art of Feedback.” It is an inspired teaching and one that applies with equal force to the situation I was in this week.

For me, this is a deeply challenging area based on my personal history, but I work to grow.  What are your challenges in receiving and giving feedback?  How might shifts in how you receive and offer your opinions enhance your relationships and your goals for living and society?


A Slow Metro Ride, A Missed Yoga Class, and Meditations on the Costs of War

Yesterday I wrote to my DC elected officials and to the budget office to let them know how important it is to me that local municipalities fully fund public transportation, as the budget year comes to a close.  Metro officials are threatening to close down many bus lines entirely, which will mean that far too many people will be unable to get to work, especially for low-paying jobs.  Hundreds of workers are scheduled to  be laid off, which means (as an icy cold budgetary matter — the budget after all being a moral document) that they will need services and no longer will be paying taxes.  Disrepair, injuries, and accidents will become even more prevalent, and service will be slowed at already overtaxed and overcrowded times.  Our air quality will go from yellow/orange to orange/red from the increase in gridlocked traffic.  I discussed the issue and the urgency of making our voices heard with several co-workers today.

I left the office at 5:40 pm this evening to go to take Suzie Hurley’s 6:15pm class at Willow Street, Takoma, Park.  I was standing on a metro train at 5:46pm.  The ride is supposed to take 13 minutes from Judiciary Square metro.  We reached Takoma Park at 6:27pm.  I went over to the studio when I arrived.  If the door was open, I would have looked in and caught Suzie’s eye and quietly seen whether I could slip in.  The door was closed, and I could hear that the class had already started doing standing poses.  Under circumstances where being late is clearly not my fault (and I try to avoid those by being willing to be early if it turns out the travel has been optimally sequenced), I will join the class just after centering and before the asanas begin.  As much as I would have liked to have taken a yoga class after the slow metro ride, I felt that I shouldn’t risk disturbing the other students by coming so late.  I instead will be doing a long, deep, slow, inward-moving practice when I am finished writing, corresponding, getting ready for practice and sleep, and doing some preparations for tomorrow’s work day.

In my growing acceptance that I would be arriving too late to Takoma to take class, I thought about the email I had received earlier in the day about the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s “Our Nation’s Checkbook” campaign.  The email reminded me that a third of my tax dollars are being spent on war.  “What about investing in green jobs, preventing more home foreclosures, and funding diplomacy to prevent wars?” I was asked.  “What about public transportation,” I thought, as I sat on the stationary train between stations.  “How many trains could be operated efficiently and safely for each fighter aircraft?”

How do I want to live?  What are my priorities?  When does short-sightedness or immediate personal satisfaction impact my long-term health and happiness and peaceful co-existence on a crowded planet?  For what purposes do I practice?  How would I like to invite others to live?

The ride home, of course, had nary a problem.  A train arrived in under five minutes.  The ride back to Union Station was exactly 11 minutes.  Everyone had a seat, and the car was nearly full,  so it was at perfect capacity.  It was still light, and lots of people were out because of the balmy night and the beauteous blossoms, and I felt safe strolling home instead of taking the bus.  What a beautiful night!


Making a Pledge (and sangha)

I get lots of emails asking me to engage in e-activism — write letters to Congress, write letters to corporate executives, write letters to the President, sign petitions — and, of course, requests for donations.  The requests I get are from a wide range of public interest organizations, including environmental, women’s rights, peace, civil rights, worker’s rights, care for animals and other wildlife, organic food, good science, enhancing education, the list goes on.  Sometimes I just hit the delete button.  Sometimes I sign the petition.  Sometimes I hit the send button on the form letter.  Sometimes I edit the letter personally to make it a more powerful statement.  Sometimes I give money.  Sometimes I both write and give money.  Sometimes I learn something that invites me to change how I consume or invest my money, and I try to make a shift.

I received an email today from the Rainforest Action Network asking me if I would make a pledge to help end mountain top removal.  I power my electricity with 100% wind energy, now through Clean Currents, so I am not using coal-powered electricity myself at home.  I sent RAN another donation; I really believe in what they do.  I also agreed to do a blog post on why it is important to end mountaintop coal mining as part of my pledge.  It’s utter and nearly permanent devastation is horrifying and wakens me to the repercussions of consumption without conscious knowledge of the impact.  Seeing the pictures makes me think about everything I consume (and I am already an overthinker).  I welcomed the invitation to pledge to spread the word.

In yoga, the concept of “sangha” or community carries with it the meaning that you become those with whom you keep company (so therefore keep good company).  I subscribe to all these activist list serves and seek out those who are more engaged than am I, so that I will be inspired progressively to live with more consciousness.  I thank RAN for inspiring me to extend the invitation to look more closely at how we can shift our energy consumption still to enjoy reasonable fruits of our technology, but not in a way that destroys the possibility of a good life for others in the present and for eons into the future.


Thinking Things Through v. Overthinking

It is good to act consciously, to move and react from a place of sensitivity, discrimination, and understanding.  It is good to know both the big picture and the details.  When does paying attention and thinking things through, though, become “overthinking?”  I think (ha ha) that it is when thinking things through takes us away from the heart, when it desensitizes, instead of assists us in acting with discrimination.


Gratitude and Self-Acceptance

On Friday night, Betsy Downing was at Willow Street’s Silver Spring studios leading a weekend workshop.  The focus of the weekend was learning how yoga practice can assist us in “interesting times.”  In this regard, Betsy invited us to recommit to two practices that we know support us when we fully practice them.  I did not feel the need for more meditation or asana or pranayama.  I do those steadily.

I have been struggling, though, with where I am lately — I think something was triggered with all the confined time during the great snows.  This morning I decided that for me, this invitation would best serve if I allowed it to help refocus my practice.  In getting a little off-kilter, I forgot to practice fully gratitude and self-acceptance.  Remembering to practice those fully will nourish me well in these challenged times.


Health Care Reform, Brick-Throwing, Death Threats (and Svatrantrya)

One of the six fundamental aspects of being (sat) in the “Shiva-Shakti” tantra that is the foundation of Anusara yoga is svatantrya — freedom.  (The others are cit, ananda, spanda, purnatva, sri). Freedom in this sense is an ultimate freedom — the very cosmos is unconstrained and freely creates what we recognize as the fabric of being out of its own play (lila).  We, as inseparable from being, although in some ways confined by our embodiment, are essentially free — free to choose whether to recognize our essential nature, to find bliss (ananda) in our embodiment, to recognize the fullness (purnatva) of being, and to honor the essential auspiciousness of being (sri) in ourselves and all that is around us.

In having that freedom, we can also turn away.  We can stay cloaked.  We can choose violence and anger rather than nurture and love.  We can choose, out of our own essential freedom to remain cloaked in ignorance, to throw bricks and threaten death because of a perceived socialist tyranny because of the passage of health care “reform” that denies the right to choose, does not provide basic medical services for all (no single payor or even public option), and gives the pharmaceutical industry a pass, but does some modest regulation of insurance companies and employers.  (“Better than nothing, I guess,” as one friend wrote on the internet.)

I see the t-shirt “it’s all good,” and I think, “not!”  I also know that I have the freedom for myself to recognize and remember sri, to try and see it in all, including the play of freedom that includes the freedom to turn away from the light.  It will be a lifetime of practice.


Novelization of the Mahabharata

I found used a novelization of the Mahabharata a couple of weeks ago, which I am now reading.  I’ve read other versions put into English prose, all of which have some stamp of the presenter (author?).  The version I am reading brings to the fore that those who are deserving of the love of people and who are blessed by the divine are physically beautiful, wealthy, and possess great military prowess.  Righteousness includes unquestionably obeying the orders of rulers and parents and accepting your station in life as the determination of God.

The book jacket proclaims the Mahabharata “the greatest spiritual epic of all time.”  I agree that it is a great epic and a rather amazing one.  Some of the precepts, like all presented in great writings that have lasted over the centuries are worthy of contemplation for one’s own life (I am all for recognizing guests as divine visitors and treating them with due regard, for example), as well as for understanding the society in which the work was created.  But any work that mostly reflects the societal mores of the time in which it was written and is designed to perpetuate the powers that be is perhaps best read as fiction.  Saying this does not mean I do not recognize the good of some of the teachings interwoven into the fairy tales, but rather that I think it must also be understood in the confines of its context, lest we perpetuate societal evils that no longer serve.  (This, of course, has Western parallels.)