Friday, August 31, 2012

Dreams of New Orleans

Well another hurricane has passed and a city survived.  New Orleans has been on my mind a lot lately.

Last night I dreamed about it.  I went back to look for an apartment and I was checking out this place on Esplanade Ave.  It was beautiful with high ceilings and big bright windows.  Two stories.  Maybe a few units in big ol' house, a very New Orleans thing.  For some reason I decided, I think without the landlord knowing, I would stay overnight just to check it out.  It still had some furniture.  The next day some family came to look at it and we were all sitting around a table outside talking about money and we had very different ideas about it, namely this guy wanted to make lots of it and he felt like it was cool to get it however you can.  I didn't want him to get this house/apartment.  I was also hanging out with my friend Brooke who was really happy about me maybe moving back.  Then Austin showed up out of nowhere; apparently he didn't really know I was doing this and he didn't think it was a good idea or not the right time, too soon, to go back.

But it was one of those dreams where I woke up feeling really nice about the whole thing.  Like I really liked the idea of going back and looking for a place.  I am just so curious to know what my future holds.  Things keep coming up that make me think my future is not here at Green Gulch.  I know that someone has to stay here to keep it going and that this place is so important to so many people but how do you know if you are meant to carry this torch?  On the other hand, I could go back to New Orleans, maybe work with IWES again in some capacity, teach yoga in some capacity, open a yoga/meditation studio, run after school progs with Austin, have foster kids, have a dog or 5, garden & farm.  Or I could stay here in the glorious mountain and ocean air of California.  Who knows?!  It's all about intuition.  How will I know when I am just restless because humans always want excitement or I'm restless because it is time to move on?

P.S. I think I was projecting my thoughts onto Austin in my dream because he supports any path I want even if it means going somewhere without him for a while.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Color is Zen?

The concept of diversity, especially in today's era of political correctness and false sense of triumph, is so vast and so complex.

There is a lot of buzz around San Francisco Zen Center and in the Zen world at large about a blog post talking about some of Zen Center's 50th Anniversary celebrations.  Sistah Vegan's, Breeze Harper, shares some of her feelings and observations as a black woman attending an event attended by mostly white people (make sure to read the comments after, extremely thoughtful and pointed).  Nathan and Dangerous Harvest also had some thoughts about class and race discrimination in Zen sanghas.  Finally, since hearing the dharma talk by Tova Green in which Harper's blog was mentioned, many of us Zen students are feeling a little more courageous to talk about diversity and institutional discrimination.

For me, the first question is not how do we make a sangha diverse but why don't people feel welcome? And we have to really be honest, really want to answer the question even if it is something we have been complicit in, even if it challenges our ideas of how good we are, how much we know, etc.  It means we have to go way back, all the way back, to how Zen first started (and what happens when traditions jump country borders) and how people of different races and ethnicities got to the US, were they here first? get here by force? come looking for a better life? And then make our way all the way to the present and see how structures have been built by forces of coercion, hate, and exploitation and the longer they go unfixed the more compact the layers get.  Like the roots of plants that can't get through nutrient depleted compact soil, the roots that connect us all cannot get through layers of compacted ignorance.

I don't know what will happen in our discussion group here at Green Gulch, I can already see the challenges.  Everything from people to dominating conversation with ideas that are confused or off topic to ancient twisted anger and karma coming up in reaction to the term "white privilege."  I like what Breeze said in one of her comments after meeting with Zen Center abbot Steve Stucky and recommending a book that talks about what it, "means to build a Buddhism practice/site/sangha ontop of structural whiteness... I was also suggesting that “white privilege” as a word and to train the sangha about may not be as useful as using terms such as structural whiteness/structural racism. I Feel like “white privilege” is still focused on ‘individuals’ and not on structures, institutions, and systems. Not saying it’s a ‘bad’ term to use, but I think it doesn’t always get to the root of the issue."  

The answer will always be in the roots.  The roots underneath the constructions of ourselves that we create and show to the world falsely thinking they are real.  The roots are in the place you can "hear the utterance of the soul."

New Orleans, LA, Tree of Life

Friday, August 24, 2012

Farm & (Versus?) Garden

The crew at John Jeavons' Ecology Action in Willits, CA
Green Gulch's Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program started in 1994.  At some point around 2004 the apprenticeship was split into two distinct programs.  I don't know much about what initiated the split but I can guess that it may have had something to do with the challenges of rotating people between the two areas when continuity and efficiency go hand in hand.  The farm in particular needs to maximize efficiency as they harvest incredible loads for sale.

This division may be helpful in some ways but it has also led to some tensions that may be inevitable but could be more deeply explored.  I will do my best to present my observations objectively while acknowledging that I am a gardener and wouldn't trade it.  There's the usual banter of shit talking between the two apprentice groups just to give each other a hard time but sometimes it hits a little too close to heart.  Some of it is simply fact.  The ratio of land to apprentice is lower (higher?) in the farm than the garden so each farmer has more ground to cover.  The farm grows almost all annuals so they have higher turnover of crops.  They sell more product so their harvests are much larger, time consuming, and time sensitive.  Because they sell more they make more money.  They use tractors.  So in the end much s*** is thrown around about one group working more or harder than the other.  Is that the point?

Another level of examination needs to mention that organic farming is very sexy right now.  Which is great!  Farming, small farming, needs to happen.  As conventional farms poison the earth and ALL its inhabitants somebody needs to be preparing and learning techniques to feed people when conventional food becomes too expensive for most.  The side effect of this sexiness is that the farm gets a lot of attention.  When journalists write about Green Gulch or photographers/directors want to shoot film they all spend most of their attention on the farm.  The garden is like the quiet child in a large family who is well behaved and gets all As.

Finally, there is beauty and function.  On the surface it is easy to say "oh yeah the garden is pretty but it's not much use for anything."  As the Zen saying goes, "everything has its merit according to function and place."  Sure we can all recognize the function of the farm, it provides food and we need food to survive!   But it's not that simple.  Much of what the farm grows is lettuce, which, while delish is not so nutrient or calorie rich.  Also due to financial decisions most of our produce leaves Green Gulch where it can fetch a better price at market than here from our own kitchen.  On the other hand, the garden is beautiful and, I would argue, contains some of most dynamic art "installations" in the world.  Art has served some human function since...the beginning of time.  I wouldn't want a world without it.  So in the end I say we need both beauty and function and you don't have one without the other.  And at Zen Center farm and garden serve as containers (environments or structures) for practice and examining the self.  One might say they foster different types of practice or skills or we might just say different people need different containers.  (We could probably also try a little harder to bring the farm and garden worlds closer together)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

La Famiglia Dito

I think it's been a few weeks since my last post!  Life has been busy and full of fun.

When my youngest brother was little he seemed to want nothing more than to be out of the house and on his own in this big wide world.  Now he has been out of the house for some time and he's grown sentimental in his old age (25yrs).  He planned the first Dito family trip to Lake Tahoe in...gosh, maybe since sometime when I was in college.  Growing up we went to Tahoe for two weeks every summer and usually one week in the winter.  A few years back my parents decided, now that they don't have to pay for college, they can finally get a cabin in Tahoe where they can enjoy their newly found free time post-retirement.  Little brother decided it was about time we all get together.  So in we little birds flocked.  Vince and his fiance from SoCal, Austin and I from the farm, and Brian and his new special lady from D.C.  August in Tahoe is prime time.  The air is hot, the sand is hot, and the water is cool and blue.  We had ambitious plans to do things like a ropes course and raft down the river, rent a boat, etc.  We ended up doing almost none of those things.  Mostly floated on the lake, drank beers on the beach, swam, napped, snacked, read books, enjoyed each others company.  Oh yeah, we did rent a boat.  The boys got pulled above (and below) the water on wake boards and skis.  I am too old for those shennanigans and preferred being dragged on a tube.  What weird things we do for entertainment.

It is amazing to observe this family of mine.  We are all so different and yet all came from the same two loving parents.  When you look closely you can see that we each seem to reflect different characteristics of the parents.  Vince is practical and has a mind for building things.  Brian has a love of traveling and language.  I am an appreciater of the arts, an avid reader and a fiery feminista.  And each of us kids has a very well-matched partner.  Underneath all these difference there is a deep love that I appreciate every day.  Family is the greatest place to practice unconditional love.  You love these people without any regard for whether you agree with them and you have no desire to change them, just hug them and laugh.

Oh yes and coffee and pastries every morning at our very favorite place in Tahoma, "Where We Met."  Amazingly sweet little spot.  Local fave.  A dog named Polpetta and a sweet barista, the owner, Liz.

Monday, August 6, 2012

She Wore What?!?!?

This weekend I went to the deYoung Museum to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit.  In some ways it's funny that I even know who he is considering I'm not very fashionable.  But on the other hand I have always been into fashion.  Fashion as art.  And no one does it like Gaultier.  His stuff is known to be totally outrageous, creative, and never predictable.  He is best known for Madonna's cone shaped bras and also introducing the man-skirt as an option.  This is one of the things I love most about him.  You may say I fall into the category of "gender queer."  (Working at a women's social justice organization I learned more lingo in regards to gender, sex and sexuality than you could ever imagine.)  Gender queer has less to do with sexuality and more to do with my perspective on gender roles.  Everything from how one dresses to what activities are socially acceptable for someone to engage in.  Ffor example, that girls can have short hair, boys can have long hair, girls can work construction and boys can knit.  I think it is so important to continue moving in a direction that allows people to exist on the natural spectrum.  And really it's not a linear spectrum of masculine - feminine but more…circular? Layered?  Let's just say complex and worthy of love.

For him? For her?
After seeing the exhibit at the deYoung, prompted by a poster we saw, mom and I decided to pop over to the Man Ray/Lee Miller Surrealist exhibit at the Legion of Honor.   It was a wonderful surprise.   The image at right is probably the only image I had ever seen by Man Ray but I got a good peep into the Surrealist movement and the friendship/romance/collaboration and work of both Man Ray and his one time muse and contemporary, Lee Miller.  They both did super cool things with photography using different light and development techniques.  Much of his art from a certain time period reflected his heartbreak when Lee left him.  He became a bit obsessed with her eyes and her lips.  It happens.  One thing he liked to do was cutout pictures of her eyes and glue them to things and then break them!  His most famous was her eye on a metronome.  He recommended this technique as helpful for getting over a lover.  She became an artist in her own right.  She was also one of the first female war correspondents of WWII.

I recommend both exhibits!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kiss My A** Monsanto

This morning I spent some glorious hours pulling out dead growth and seed saving.  Something about seeing the entire lifecycle of a plant, from seed to sprout, to flower and back to seed, and participating in supporting this infinite cycle, feels really pure and ancient.  I was pulling poppies of all kinds, big purple opium poppies, small red, ruffly red, and also nigella (or love in the mist) and finally foxglove with seed so abundant as I cut the 10 feet tall stalks seeds were shaking all over my head.  With enough luck my head will start sprouting next spring, like a chia pet. 

Seed saving is super controversial these days.  It blows my mind that something so natural and clearly sustainable could be exploited and manipulated by big agricultural corporations, or "Big Ag" if you want to know the lingo.  The best example is Monsanto.  They are the biggest supplier of pesticide and genetically engineered seeds.  Now, like chickens and turkeys who have been genetically modified for so long that almost no breeds can naturally reproduce any longer (even the organic ones), Monsanto can make seeds that are only good for roughly one season.  They also have PATENTED their genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or certain cells/strains so that it is illegal to save the seeds and use them again.  You have to buy them each year from Monsanto. (It also kind of reminds me of Bikram patenting "his" sequence of ancient yoga postures, you can't own this stuff!)

Problem #1.  Monsanto claims that it is contributing to farm science and is contributing to sustainable practices so we can feed the world.  If you look at their website you would think they were angels sent by Christ himself.  But how can a practice in which you have to BUY their product every year be more sustainable than plants that will give you their seed every year for free?  Promoting and selling their product to the farmers of the world, especially the poorest most vulnerable ones, leads people to be dependent on always being able to purchase Monsanto products even when harvest is bad, and even if it is due to bad Monsanto products.  It's like how Nestle promoted their baby formula to the poorest women of the world.  When they were in the hospital and had access to clean water they used it just fine and their breast milk dried up.  Then they go home and have no clean drinking water to mix with the formula they now have to buy and their baby dies of diarrhea.  

Americans have welcomed GMOs into their lives with open arms.  Monsanto answered the call of "we want more for less, oh and bigger too, much bigger."  Problem #2.  When you selectively breed and cross-breed strains of vegetables and otherwise modify their genetic codes to yield more or be resistant to certain pests or the pesticide the Monsanto produces, then the strains are not hardy to other elements or adaptable to their natural regions.  It makes crops extremely vulnerable.  As we reduce biodiversity, we increase our vulnerability.  

In Europe the folks have not been so welcoming to Monsanto and its likes.  They employ strict labeling laws and other such measures to make sure the public knows where its food comes from (ie. not good for Monsanto because it makes them look sketchy).  Monsanto sees the U.S. as it's allies!  Not a good sign. "The documents obtained by Wikileaks included Monsanto asking the US government to maintain its strong pressure on the European Union legislation for the introduction of GMO foods.[130] After moves in France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety, the US embassy recommended that 'we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU."  Do we really want to be on their side?

Products developed by Monsanto:
  1. Saccharin 
  2. Nuclear Weapons 
  3. DDT
  4. Agent Orange
  5. Celebrex 
  6. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - used as an insulator, highly toxic and still involved in lawsuits as recently as 2002 in regards to Monsanto dumping hella tons of this toxic nasty and poisoning town water supplies
  7. Roundup - Pesticide, causes birth defects in lab animals; you spray it all over your land
  8. Terminator seeds - Seeds that self-destruct after one use
  9. rBGH - Recombinant bovine growth hormone; it turns cows into machines