Art and Culture

Thoughts on Democracy (and “Actionless Action”)

My friend Dan posted some interesting thoughts about democracy on his blog.  He is writing in the context of the Unitarian Universalist community, but the thoughts are equally applicable to our lives as citizens.  The thoughts on democracy also for me highlighted what is really meant in the Bhagavad Gita about “actionless action.”  To embody our spiritual practice in the way we live our lives, we serve to our best ability out of love, out of delight in acting, out of a sincere joy in serving, but we do not get attached to a particular outcome.

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The Front Garden

I don’t talk much about my front garden because it is not as exciting for me as the back garden with its edibles and herbs.  I give a sincere effort to make the front garden beautiful and welcoming since it is my interface with the neighborhood and all who walk past my house.  The front is very shady and two maple trees block the rain and drink most of the water that gets past the leaves, so it has taken some effort to find plants that thrive.  Much of what is in my garden comes from other gardening friends.  Plants that come from friends near-by are likely to do well moved down the street.  As my garden has matured, it has needed divisions, thus giving me an opportunity to share, in turn, with younger friends and neighbors.  It thus nourishes in important ways, though it offers nothing to eat.

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A Favorite Sculpture (and the missing mentor)

I have been walking past this sculpture regularly ever since I was a judicial clerk in 1987-1988.  It is in the plaza between the Federal and DC court houses.  It is dated in the subject matter.  The partner-associate relationship has shifted over the years, both from the inclusion of women in the law place and the changing economics.  The shift in economics to assume that most associates will not be partners because the firm simply does not have the space for more partners and because the associates feel freer to move around and for a whole host of other reasons, some more benign than others, has left new workers bereft of the support of a mentor.  In the disruption of the continuity of the workplace, those who stay are less motivated to serve as mentors and lose the delight and strength that comes from the action of mentoring.  Those who come into a workplace without a mentor never learn the way they could.  Although some of the changes are good, the missing mentor is indeed a loss.

Though the sculpture reminds me of something lost, I love this sculpture, especially where it is set.  It is absolutely suited to its location and was made with great skill and love.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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