Thursday, November 28, 2013

Objectify Women and Protect Immigrants! All With American Apparel

As some of you may know, I am the office manager at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Part of my job includes ordering merchandise for our small bookstore/gift shop.  I have no background in retail and had no idea how difficult this part of my job would be. There are many elements to this I could discuss but what has really been alive for me lately is the world of clothing and the controversy around organic, made in the USA, sweatshops, fossil fuel and consumerism.

So I basically have to decide with every item I order how universally likable is said object, will people buy it and how much will people pay for it.   Holy shit!  You ask 100 different people what they think about a particular item of clothing for example and you get 100 different answers.  I took on the task of ordering new sweatshirts and long sleeve t-shirts for the fall/winter seasons.  This included deciding which sweatshirts to buy and what image to put on them.  As the director said to me one day, I was fun at first and then it got to be not so fun as it took up more and more work time, brain power and kept me up at night ("what if everyone hates them and I wasted thousands of dollars??!!").

The logo stuff took time and some hounding of contributing artists.  But more painfully I had to figure out where to order the blank sweatshirts from.  Here at Green Gulch using organic products is very important so we have often used the company Econscious for our clothing needs.  And they are pretty good.  Their website says all the right things.  For the sake of the environment I do believe organic is better.  Not using petrochemical fertilizer is simply better.  Chemical fertilizers are toxic and they get into ground water, kill animals and poison people who come into contact with them.  Things can get a little sticky when you start to look at certifying organizations and their actual standards (see QAI, the world's largest organic certfier) standards are known to be broken or sometimes like in the case of China, they do not allow foreigners to inspect their farms and the US agency must rely on a contracted third (fourth) party certifier. There are great certifying boards in the US, often times local to certain areas, but if a farm uses them it is often on top of using the USDA "McCertifier".  This is one of the problems with all of our products coming from overseas, it is often much more difficult to monitor quality, working conditions, employee payment, etc. even when organic.

Yikes! At least she looks like she weighs more than 90lbs?
Which brings me to American Apparel.  This is where I have to come back to the buddhist concept of "holding two truths."  American Apparel was founded in the '80s by Dov Charney who is dedicated to a model of local manufacturing of goods.  On the one had you've got this guy who has had several lawsuits filed against him for a variety of types of misconduct in which the claims are pretty heinous and he also uses horrid advertising that objectifies and sexualizes women to the extreme (see right) but on the other hand he is doing something no one else is doing: producing mainstream clothing IN THE UNITED STATES. In fair working conditions, with decent pay and benefits and the fact that the production is local allows for a level of transparency just not possible in foreign countries.  They even do their own garment dying in SoCal, which brings just one more step of the process into the realm of humane treatment.

So when Megan at the Feminist Current blog mentions in many places, how disgusting the founder is and her general abhorrence of the existence of AmApp, I feel guilty!  After much time debating the merits of various options (availability, fit, feel, colors, organic, made in US) I chose one sweatshirt from Econscious and one from American Apparel.  I think my partner was a bit disturbed that I paid more money for a sweatshirt that wasn't even organic but I do think there's merit to Made in the USA.  And my only option for doing that is to simultaneously support fair working conditions and the exploitation of women.  Not so clean.  It never is.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Too Messed Up to be a Zen Master (or Justin Beiber)

Hi y'all it's been a while but I got sufficiently fired up the other night that my inspiration has come back.

San Francisco Zen Center hosted an event Friday night at the Jewish Community Center in SF. It was a "conversation" between premier Buddhist scholar, Dr. Robert Thurman (maybe better known in some circles as Uma Thurman's dad), Zen Center president Susan O'Connell and local therapist Dr. David Bullard.  The title of the event was "Embracing the Disappointments of Intimacy: How Buddhist Ideas Can Help Relationships."  Sounds cool right?  I think people are thirsty for these kinds of discussions.  People like me, who are into this zen practice, are trying to figure out how to apply the teachings to our everyday lives.  And as humans, relationships are a central, if not The central, theme in our lives.  They open up and touch every emotion we have.  So we need help!  We want to be better to our loved ones and even better to those we don't love so much.

I'm glad I went to the talk and I could say a lot about how the discussion could have been better.  To keep it short I will say I would have liked the conversation to have stayed on topic.  Robert Thurman had a lot to say and often what he said was loosely related at best.  At worst, you could say he hijacked the stage and went of on some rants.

But here's where my beef lay and here are some of the questions it inspired. At one point early in the evening the subject of sex came up, as often does in conversations about intimacy.  This was in relation to falling in love and the tendency to get totally consumed by this other person.  Dr. Thurman says he wants to share some wisdom he heard from Sasaki Roshi and goes on to casually acknowledge that he's currently being accused of some sexual "misdeeds."  (I have included one link but there are many) He might have even chuckled to himself when he said it!  Dr. Thurman went on to say "but he's still a great master."  And continued to share some of Sasaki's teachings about sex!  Including something about when people first fall in love they stay all wrapped up in the bedroom for a few days but they can't stay like that forever, and eventually someone "has to clean the sheets.'  Fucking gross! (please excuse my language).  It will never be okay to be casual about a spiritual leader taking advantage of his congregants.  And I also feel like it will never be ok to condone "teachings" from a criminal about the very behavior they are being accused of misusing.  That is just messed up and it's a head game for people who are vulnerable, seeking, and deeply exploring their own psyche.

Which leads me to the question, how messed up do you have to be to lose your "Zen Master" membership card?  In the discussion of spiritual teachers gone wild, it is often mentioned that these behaviors are mistakes and these people aren't gods, they are still human beings, and they still offer some great insights that are really helpful for a lot of people.  But I think we have to draw a line somewhere.  Our brains are set to compartmentalize the world around us. I'm not sure it is so easy for a lot of us to separate a Zen teacher's good teachings from shitty teachings.  Of course they will make mistakes, this issue will never go away, but we can do our best to protect people.  Letting him slide because he was a "great master" is how this mess continued for so long in the first place.

On a, I would argue, somewhat related note.  Here's a link to a hot of the press story of Justin Beiber's visit to a brothel.  I do think all of this is related because it falls into "rape culture."  The devaluing and sexualizing of women that is supported by many seemingly harmless things, like Dr. Robert Thurman subtly approving of Sasaki Roshi's behavior by still regarding him as a great master.  How would that make his victims feel?  Invalidated perhaps? And then you have celebrities like Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus who are these extreme examples of the symptoms of a sick society.  We can argue that they aren't good examples because they are not regular people but what are the kids watching every day?  Justin Beiber running out of a brothel covered in a bed sheet and Miley Cyrus getting nasty with a sledgehammer on video.  It all gets into the mind and shapes it, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes less.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don't Criticize the Farmer With Food In Your Mouth

This month at Green Gulch it is food awareness month.  We have events like:
  • A harvest dinner prepared by the farmers and gardeners including a lot of stuff we grow (beet burgers, baked fries, apple pies, cole slaw),
  • An apple tasting to sample our 15 varieties of apples (have you heard of Mrs. Bramley? a premier cooking apple), 
  • Fun food facts every day at our work circle (did you know orange carrots are a more recent invention? Historically they were lots of colors and our current orange ones are a blend of the red and white strains)
  • Movies like Food Inc. and The Garden
We have also had a variety of talks and discussions about food and its place in our lives.  This is an issue that is very close to home for us residents of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Our discussions after the TED talked (linked below) touched on many things.  For example, what Green Gulch can do to participate in taking care of the planet.  And in particular, what is our responsibility given our large presence in the northern California organic farm movement?  We asked ourselves "are we doing enough?"  We are doing our part to take care of this land.  We host school groups and a 6 month apprenticeship each year.  We buy only organic food.  But we also have common issues.  Like, we sell a large percentage of our food to restaurants and at market rather than to our own kitchen.  We can make more money selling the food to the public.  What is wrong with this picture?  What kind of example are we setting when we sell our food to other people and then buy cheaper organic produce through a wholesaler?  If it seems that the world is suffering from a food and environmental crisis, should we be practicing more sustainable, closed loop farming?  Of course it is not so simple.  We are a Buddhist training center that needs a lot of staff and short term help to run.  There are stipends, health insurance and of course building upkeep and before you know it the budget is in the millions of dollars.  As we noted, this is a microcosm of exactly what the entire world is dealing with.  

But these are the questions we ask: how do we protect the planet and try to feed everyone?  Is food science the answer (GMOs yikes!)?  Can we ever feed everyone?  Do we already have enough food to feed everyone but there's an economic/social/political problem that favors a few over the many?  What do we do about the heartbreaking amount of food wasted every day in the United States?  Why don't people care? Do people care?  Who or what creatures are most deserving of our moral and ethical efforts?  Are patriarchy and racism involved?  How does no one see the link between immigration policy and the produce that comes to our table (just in case you're not sure, much of our food is still harvested by illegal immigrants)?

Maybe I'll stop here for now while I continue to ponder.  Below are some good reads from recent mainstream publications.

Follow up reading*:
  1. Edible Marin did an article about us as a farm and place of spiritual practice.  
  2. This article in The Atlantic "How Junk Food Can End Obesity" discussed the issues of obesity, conventional food, techno food, and popular conceptions about eating organic and local among many other related topics.  It was very difficult to read the article when it challenges some of the most basic tenets I hold in my heart in regards to food and its nutritional and environmental value. But maybe I have to open my eyes wider?
  3. This article was in the New York Times Magazine "Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest".  I have to commend it's originality to propose a contest such as this, something that would touch a wide audience.  They asked readers to submit essays in regards to the ethics of eating meat.  They had a panel of "judges" to pick the best essay, which was then published.  There are also some great responses questioning things like the all white male judges panel to the moral judgement included in the proposal.
  4. This video from TED, called The Other Inconvenient Truth was used as a discussion starting point.  It is similar in a way to the Atlantic article in that it approaches the food crisis from a fundamentally different perspective than many organic farmers.  It is a good summary of the serious threat to and by agriculture on the ability of humans and the planet to survive.  His "factual" statements are questionable.
* Please note that very often published material is delivered in a provocative way (ie. that will piss a fair number of people off) or attach big names in order to garner readers.  So there is often a conflict of interest and ethics in how and what material is presented. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Free The Creek!!

This morning was one of those special Green Gulch mornings.  Under a soft mist and ever-brightening skies, most of the community walked down to the 5th field of the farm.  Two by two, in silence, led in procession by the abbess and two priests ringing bells.  We arrived at the compost yard (where Kogen does much of his daily work) where a large sign was hung on our old fence that said "Free the Creek" with salmon swimming across the bottom.  We circled around the sign and Sukey our land steward welcomed us all.  She shared with us her beautiful vision of the meandering stream that runs through the valley.  Linda Ruth Cutts, our abbess, and Jeremy Levie, the tanto, both shared heartfelt and at times emotional words about what it means to this community and this land to begin this restoration work.  They invited back many many creatures, by name, who have been displaced for decades as the creek was manipulated for human use.  They also acknowledged and apologized for the harm that was done by the people before us and continued in our hands.  They loudly called and welcomed back the creatures (or at least their descendants) who once lived here.  It was so beautiful.  And it just felt good to acknowledge as a community what we have done to impact the land we love.

Some brief background for you.  Green Gulch lies in the middle of about an 8 mile watershed where water collects from all the mountains.  Many creeks and tributaries flow into Redwood Creek including the little creek here at Green Gulch.  Redwood Creek eventually returns water to the ocean at Muir Beach.  The farm that ran here before ours created culverts and damns and other ways of moving water around for use to support the animals.  Concrete was poured.   A barn was built over the original creek bed.  And the creek was moved outside of the fenced in farm area.  BUT the coho salmon are endangered, the red legged frog is endangered, steelhead trout are threatened, etc.  So in partnership with some others and some grants Green Gulch is doing a HUGE creek restoration project in our lower fields that we hope to positively impact habitat for generations to come.  This is just the beginning.

*An additional sentiment and I'll try to keep it brief.  I know it may seem ridiculous to some, spending millions of dollars on projects to save little creatures we barely even see or to have to pay for a biologist to survey a construction site every morning for potential frog visitors but if we widen the perspective a bit to allow for the future, the picture and the issue seems more pressing or precious.  Sure lets forget about the frogs for a moment but then what happens in the whole food chain as one after another species go extinct?  Also think about the great Irish Potato Famine.  This happened because, unlike the ancient civilizations in South America that grew dozens of varieties of potatoes, Ireland was basically growing one.  So when a pest particular to that variety showed up it decimated everything.  Had they grown other varieties circumstances might not have been so dire. Just some food for thought (pun intended).

"Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over." - Mark Twain

Post-racial America(?)

There are about a million links to articles and discussions about the most recent case of a Jonathan Ferrell, a young unarmed black man shot and killed by the police, this time in North Carolina.  I guess I just want to express my sadness.  My deep sadness and sometimes hopelessness about the pain caused by one human to another.  It happens literally every day, all day all over the world.  We hear about only the tiniest percentage of the cases but they are all sad.  Even when it is the death of someone that people think deserved it or when the killer didn't mean to do it it is still a mark of our failure as a society to take care of each other.  To cherish life as best we can.  To break our conditioned responses, to interrupt or change the karma, the causes and conditions, that led to us to make that choice.

It makes me think about the undoing racism workshop recently at Green Gulch.  Some people felt that talking about it made the problem worse or more complicated or something.  That we should just work towards "meeting" people of any color in the moment, etc.  Like that was all we needed to do to change.  But its  "moments" like this shooting where you see the danger of unconscious racism that is never examined or acknowledged.  Of course most of us will never be wielding a gun and have to choose whether or not to shoot a stranger but we may have words or judgments or a quick decision to make with a stranger that could impact their life in ungraspable ways.  And whatever choice we make there will be consequences we have to bear forever.  It will be a seed planted and watered by future decisions, making it easier or harder to make a different decision in the future.

I can imagine the possible confusion that happened when a stranger knocked on her door in the middle of the night.  She was alone and you never know what can happen.  Having lived in New Orleans for example, as a rule you would not open the door in the middle of the night to a stranger.  We so far have no idea what the exchange between them was, what words were said, explanations given etc.  But police officers are meant to protect everyone, assess situations before using violence, so I can't see any reason that a police officer would shoot someone who, while maybe "advancing" toward him, was not bearing a weapon.  Other than race and the assumptions this police officer has about young black men.

I am just so sad for everyone, all of us.  And in other news, people are pissed an Indian-American woman won the Miss America pageant.  What do we do?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kombucha 101

Pardon me if I have posted something like this before but let's be real one can never have too much information on kombucha brewing or encouragement to home brew.  So here we go on a magic brewing adventure of fermentation nation!

There's a slim chance you might ask, "what is kombucha?"  It is a fermented beverage made from caffeinated tea, sugar and an active culture (often referred to as the "starter" or mother or scoby).  This culture is fed by the sugar and becomes a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  It eats up the sugar so you can bottle the tea when it is to your taste.  It will get more vinegar-y the longer it brews.  Kombucha lovers and makers champion it as a health elixir with a lot of the same properties as other probiotic and fermented foods.  They say it contains good bacteria for your digestion, that it contains lots of B vitamin and other amino acids.  Scientific evidence is scant but we all know western science rarely supports a lot of alternative healing methods**  So take it as you will.

Here's the quick and dirty version:

  • Brew a large jar of caffeinated tea
  • Add 1 cup of sugar
  • Add starter w/juice
  • Cover with cloth, paper towel or coffee filter
  • Store in a dark place
  • Brew for 1-2 weeks

Here's the more detailed version:
  1. Find yourself a starter and some starter juice.  You can ask any friend who brews kombucha for a layer of their scoby and a little of the fermented tea drink. (rumor has it you can even just buy a bottle of kombucha at the store and use that as a starter)
  2. Find a pretty big glass jar (or even plastic they say).  Clean it well, sterilize it if that's an option.
  3. Fill the jar 3/4 of the way with hot water and 3 or 4 tea bags of your choice (green or black).  Add 1 cup of sugar and mix in.  Let the tea steep for 10 minutes or so and remove the tea bags.  Let the tea cool to room temp!!!!
  4. Add the starter and its juice to your tea mix and cover with a cheese cloth/paper towel/coffee filter.  Make sure it is secure as you don't want anything to get into your brew except air**
  5. Move your jar into a darkish warmish space.  I keep mine in a cabinet.  
  6. Let it sit.  For 1-3 weeks.  This part is highly variable.  It will brew faster if it's really warm.  It will brew faster if the starter is BIG.  In New Orleans where it's hot and humid it brewed in a week.  Here at Green Gulch in the cooler climate it's more like 2 weeks.  
  7. After a week you can try tasting it.  If it's super sweet and not so tangy it probably hasn't brewed enough.  If it's way too tangy almost like vinegar it probably brewed too long.  Also look at the scoby.  If it hasn't grown in size that's a good indicator something ain't right.   Also if mold grows on top of your scoby, mold like the blackish furry kind, then you have to scrap the whole thing.  This has only happened to me twice in the entire time I have been brewing (several years).
  8. When the brew has a taste you like what I do is bottle it into a few smaller bottles.  I like the bottles with the rubber stopper.  So I fill up the bottle using a funnel, I like to make sure some of the little chunks get in there (my theory is that it helps it to keep brewing a little), and then I add a tiny pinch of sugar before closing it up.  I let it sit a few more days because it will get more fizzy being sealed shut with the sugar. 
  9. You can also add flavor.  Before you seal up your smaller bottle you can add things like ginger, blackberries, raspberries, lavender and anything else you can dream up.  Blackberries turn it a lovely pink color too!
  10. Enjoy.

**Scientists also warn against the danger of contamination in home brewing, which is a fair warning but probably nothing to be too worried about, especially given all of the other questionable things we eat (for example, "hmmm, this has been in the fridge for a few days, do you think it's still good?").  I have not had a problem yet.  I do wash my hands and the jars frequently in the process and I have the luxury of a sterilizer here at Green Gulch.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Sun Will Come Out...Today!

After months of gray, foggy and rather depressing weather out here in the gulch, the sun has finally come out for more than 5 one stretch!  We have actually had several, maybe even 5 or so, sunny and warm days.  So let me put it in perspective.  Our regular "summer" (June, July, August) weather is cold and misty.  This is good for our crops (lettuce and brasicas) and generally reflects (I think) healthy and expected weather patterns.  That's the catch-22: I wish it was sunny and warm because it's glorious and energetic but that would actually be asking for something that's not good.  So instead I try my best to deal with the seasonal affective disorder- like symptoms and wait patiently for the fall and it's summery weather.

Here's some gulch highlights.

  • Flocks of teenage quails roaming about, sounding their hilarious distress signals and generally freaking out, when they're not taking dust baths or running away from you like repelling magnets of course.
  • We have two late arriving baby ducks with their mum hanging out in our algae filled irrigation pond.  They are teens by now and it seems mom is confident in what she has taught them enough to leave them on their own sometimes.  They learned to groom, to dunk under water with their butts in the air and sleep on the floaties.  
  • The bees are having a ball.  First the large bees come around and now it's the smaller honey bees.  You walk by a bush and it just looks like a bush, but it's full of buzzing!  
  • You know what else is great about the fog lifting?  When there's no cloud cover I can hear the ocean again from my bedroom window.  Ahhh, it's like one of those sound machines but better, and free.
  • We have been hearing crowds of coyotes howling, yelping, barking.  It's amazing.  Sometimes when the whole community is doing farm work on Wednesday mornings it sounds like a stadium of fans cheering us on. Very encouraging.
  • This season it seems "distemper" is back again.  It generally affects dogs but also wild animals like foxes, raccoons, etc.  We have found two dead foxes which is very sad.  I will admit I am not sure the garden will be that sad if it kills off some raccoons because they ransack our apple trees every year. 
  • Snapdragons are blooming, actually they're at the end of their cycle but it's been glorious.

Monday, August 12, 2013

We Never Think Death Will Come

Recently a good friend of my brother passed away.  It was unexpected and accidental.  Grant was 26 years old, a neuroscientist and a musician.  He was still close with a lot of high school friends.  These boys seem to have one of those lasting bonds that has the sweetness of childhood and the depth that comes with growing up.   I didn't know him well but the loss has hit me harder than I expected.  I think maybe there's a feeling that it could have been my brother.  And it's a reminder, an undeniable reminder, of how fragile we are.  It is not actually so hard to hurt these bodies.  I don't know about anyone else but I definitely feel like I made it out of my "youth" relatively in tact.  But I made some not so smart choices a decade ago that could have maybe turned out bad.  At the time I felt like I knew what I was doing.  That I was being responsible enough.  But what could anyone have done for me then?  What can we tell our children?  What will I tell my child?

Then we are all left with the question of how do you let go of someone?  You have no choice but to 'bury' them and move on.  But moving on sounds so harsh.  What is moving on if it's not forgetting?  And if you never forget how do you function?  It's something of a miracle that people come into the world and kind of a shock when they leave.  The depth of the pain reflects the heights of our love I suppose. I am not sure if it is any easier when someone dies at the socially expected times.  Maybe we never expect it.  Maybe we are never ready.  I am left with the feeling that all we can do for anyone is love them as good as we can and hope they take care of themselves as best as they can and not be angry when they're gone.

Here's a sweet little song from the band Icewater (Grant and his friends) directed by their high school friend Dennis.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Facebook Breakup

Yep.  That's right.  I broke up with Facebook.  Actually right now it's more like a separation.  Divorce has not been filed.  Facebook gives you the option of "deactivating" or "deleting" the account.  Why might someone breakup with Facebook, it's the mother of all social networks!?  Well friends,
I was starting to feel a little..addicted.  My husband says, "but it's not even that compelling!"  And often it's not! So then why do I keep checking it?  Partly because I work in an office now in front of a computer so I have constant access, not just to Facebook but any number of other media outlets to peruse if I am bored.  When the thought came to mind that maybe I should get off the Facebook I felt...resistance.  Omg, it must be a sure sign of addiction! So what do we do in Zen?  We look at the places we feel resistance.  Why wouldn't I want to disengage from this e-world of friends, family and fun?  First, I have a mild fear of missing out (F.O.M.O.)  I want to see the pictures, hear the gossip, read the shit talking and follow all sorts of threads and links.  Second, for a while it seemed cool to get to see what old acquaintances were up to and "reconnect" with old classmates.  Third, I wanted to tell people about what I am up to.

But I started asking myself, what am I getting out of this activity I engage in?  I am checking in on this site several times a day but what is compelling me to do it?  Am I actually missing out on anything?  What is the nature of my sharing personal details with my facebook friends?  Am I getting some sort of validation every time someone "likes" something of mine or comments or posts on my wall?  This TIME magazine article called "The Happiness of Pursuit" has some interesting things to say about what social networking has done to our ability to be happy with what we have.  The author argues that not only do we often try to present our best self to everyone who sees it but that we compare ourselves to everything everyone else posts.  Without even trying to we are subconsciously comparing ourselves to people we may barely know or to people who lead very different lives and all of a sudden our job promotion or new bike doesn't look as great as your friend from the 5th grade's new Porsche.  The article was talking about how happiness can be significantly affected by how/who we compare ourselves to and that in this day in age it is much easier to compare ourselves with people who live very differently lives like celebrities, the top .5% etc, when back in the day we compared ourselves with people who were in our daily world.  It also gives this great suggestion of asking yourself  "Would you still engage in this experience if you could tell no one about it?"

So it's been almost a week since leaving the Facebook.  I'm not sure if I'm happier but it's nice to have one less distraction.  And I do think it gives me space to be more involved with my local life and the people that are in it.  It is also encouraging me to cultivate my important relationships more deeply.  We'll see if I go the distance and delete the account.  It does seem to be a nice way to see pictures.  Hmph.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why I Love Mad (Wo)Men

It's a good show! It's a great show.  I am totally addicted right now as I catch up on Season 5 since I finally made it to the top of the wait list at the library.  It had been quite some time since I watched it (I finished season 4 when I was still in New Orleans!)  But starting in again, I was reminded of how good it is.  I think some people have their feelings that it is trashy or just perpetuates stereotypes, etc but I kinda think they're wrong and even if they're not it's ok to like something because it's entertaining.

The basic plot backdrop is an ad agency in New York City in the early '60s.  At this time the field was mostly men who drank on the job, smoked a lot of cigarettes and cheated on their (house) wives.  This show takes a particular agency and uses it as a lens to look at a thick layer of social issues.  The most in your face issue is the rising presence of women in the work force and the glaring widespread consequences of a gender power imbalance at home.  As you can guess the agency is full of men, some dashing, some rich, some are both and some are not quite there but want to be.  The agency is also full of sexy secretaries.  So let your mind wander to the expected relations between these two groups.   Then look further and you see one secretary, Peggy, who shows talent and gets promoted and then continues to have to prove herself.  Every day.  And having to put up with overt degradation under the guise of humor because she's one-of-the-guys.  So she has to pay dearly for being good at her job and one of her losses is her sense of being a "woman," she cannot both be one of the guys and a sexual, attractive human being.  We watch her fight with this in superbly acted and written scenes.  She also proves to be the main male character (Don Draper)'s sole
confidante or at least the one person with whom we see him be most himself, often providing the only moments where we see his vulnerable side, the side that makes him human and worthy of compassion.

Another main female character is Joan, the office manager.  The girl is deep.  She's highly sexualized
(beautiful, super curvy and plays it up), she is regarded as almost untouchable or out of every man in the office's league but also has a quiet affair with one of the partners, she is the master of subtlety, highly regarded for her paramount tact in pretty much any situation and she's smart.  It almost gets buried under her sexiness but it shows itself in such subtle ways that most of the men don't realize they are being played or manipulated by her.  Not malicious manipulated but...I can't quite put my finger on it.  She also kicks her young good looking husband out after a final straw.  And she does it so calmly with no room for being bullied or sweet-talked, careful not to fall victim to the "crazy emotional woman syndrome" that makes it so easy for the men to dismiss them.

Finally, a new lead female character is Meghan.  She started out as a secretary, moves up a little to copy editor AND marries Don Draper, the handsome, charming and emotionally messed up lead character.  His story runs deep, no spoilers but his past is dark and he has done much to "make" himself into the man he is (ie. he's got some skeletons in his closet!).  Pre-Meghan, he was married with three kids and it sefl-destructed and you see his current marriage in danger of going that same way.  There is love but he is not ready for a liberated woman even if he is sorta thrilled by it.  Meghan stands up to him but also acts out (check out the Howard Johnson scene with the orange sherbet), she's young and doesn't have the same maturity of Joan so it's painful to watch the emotional disconnect between her and Don.  You (meaning me) really want it to work out!  There's a glimmer of hope that she can show Don another way to be, to learn how to share feelings and for god sakes to stop being aggressive when he gets angry/defensive.  

Just like Meghan at Feminist Current says "just because you like it doesn't make it a feminist show" and that is totally fine.  These women aren't feminist icons but they are women who could be like many women of the time trying to find their place.  Trying to find some self worth outside of the home.  And trying to figure out how to meet their husbands and children in a mutually satisfying and emotional way.

This show doesn't glorify the good old days when women were home cooking and waiting for their man while the men are out earning the money and going on jags.  This show depicts the ugly affects of patriarchy on both men and women and the difficulty breaking patterns that have been building for generation and the stress of hiding emotions and repressing it all.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Are those conventional or ultimate genitals?

The subject of transgender politics is really hot right now, at least in some circles.  Now, I don't pretend that I am in any way on the forefront of understanding all that is politically correct in the dialogue of trans rights, experiences and terminology but I do have some ideas about how it presents itself in my sphere of life.

There is a radical environmental group called Deep Green Resistance (DGR).  Their efforts are geared toward looking at (and stopping) the industrial civilization that is killing us all because it depends on the exploitation of the earth's natural resources as well as the backs of "the 99%."  One of their primary discussion points is that this out of control and out of balance way of living is deeply embedded in patriarchal structures that reward competition, oppression of women, emotional numbness, an unhealthy power dynamic that allows for exploitation, etc.  In this vein, some female members of DGR hold women-only meetings to discuss issues as they are experienced by women.  They made a decision not to allow transgender women (men who became women) to attend because they had grown up socialized as men and receiving said privilege and could not speak from the perspective of a 'woman'.  This sparked a forest fire of reaction that has divided the group, elicited a level of violent response that is pretty much unacceptable in any circumstance but especially this one, and has at best led to a lot of discussion of gender politics.

So where does the buddhism come in?  Derrick Jensen, founder of DGR, eventually chose to respond when he felt that the "truth" of the situation was being misrepresented.  The gist of his response was that trans rights groups are fighting for the continued support of a gender binary (that there is male and there is female with qualities associated with each) and he feels that it is the existence of this binary, that is purely socialized, that is creating the unhealthy society in the first place.  You can read more here but I will continue.  What I think he means is that there is a catch-22.  Trans people want the right to be recognized equally as the gender that they feel they are and the right to achieve the body (or 'sex') that society recognizes as fitting that gender.  They want to feel whole.  This is totally legit.  We all want that.  As a buddhist, I am trying to study my self and find my true self in order that I will some day feel whole, love myself exactly as I am, warts and all.  So one might ask, if we are fighting to get to a place where people can feel comfy in their own skin, then isn't changing your body to a different sex just supporting the gender stereotypes that are wreaking havoc on us all?  If patriarchy is making demons out of men and victims out of women why fight to be recognized as one of those when you could just be who you are with the skin you were born with?

So seriously, here's the buddhist part.  The conventional truth (the world our human minds can see and that language describes it) is that we are not in a time where we love each other unconditionally for who we are regardless of appearance, etc.  We live in a time full of aggression and socially accepted masculine and feminine traits and behavior, style, expectations and experiences.  The ultimate truth is that Derrick Jensen is right, there is no man or woman or masculine or feminine, there are people or sentient beings that co-create the world and our very existence depends on the presence of every other thing.  That WE ARE NOT SEPARATE.  We are all shimmering mirrors reflecting and expressing the perfection of existence.

But we cannot pretend and live like ultimate truth is all there is.  That would be like saying, I can take whatever I want from whoever I want because there is no separation so it's all mine or it's no one's.  There is both the conventional and ultimate truth and we have to hold both at the same time.  We have to live in the world where maybe someone is happier when they have a body that matches what they feel inside because they have no choice but to see themselves reflected in the eyes of society.  So while we may know there is a flaw to the logic that someone feels that they were born with the wrong body in the first place, we cannot invalidate their experience and deny them their attempt at finding wholeness.   I might go so far as to argue that the decision for some women's DGR meetings to exclude trans women may have a thread of logic to it but it will probably cause more harm than good to exclude people.  And finally, the Real truth is that we don't know.  We don't know whether the harm/good from any one decision is bigger/smaller than the outcome from a different choice.  We are all doing our best and deep down hurting people is something no one wants to do.

For the record, this issue is something Green Gulch hasn't really had to face yet (as far as I know).  So DGR is taking the bullet for many other groups that will indeed have to face this situation.  There has been the briefest of discussions about what would happen if a transgender individual wanted to come here as a resident.  One person of the older generation didn't really understand the problem.  Maybe they thought the individual would just use the bathroom of whatever sex they were.  This is assuming that they have fully transitioned and look like the gender they feel.  But what if we have a young person who identifies as a woman but still has a body that looks very "male"?  Which bathroom would they use?  Who would they share a room with?  It's like we'd have to choose who we want to make uncomfortable.  The trans person could room with who they want and use whatever bathroom that feels appropriate but what about the other people they share with?  How will they feel? Will they understand?  There's the interpersonal and community side of things (like we have to explore these issues and talk about our feelings) and then there's the practical side of things (do we need to build a new bathroom that is unisex? should a transgender person just have their own room?  do we have the space for that? is that isolating? fair?)

Stay tuned.  And in the mean time ask yourself, is buddha a man or a woman?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Poem for Summertime

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

- Li-Young Lee 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Your Flowers Are Talking - What Do They Say About You?

I just finished reading this book called The Language of Flowers.  It was lent to our garden manager who passed it on to all of us gardeners and ex-gardeners.  We loved it and read it in a day or two.  It's addicting and dramatic and tugs on the heart strings (reading the summary on the back is almost enough to make you put it down because of just how cheesy it sounds, try to overcome).  It is simultaneously light and intense at the same time.  Light in the sense that the structure is simple and not so subtle.  But it deals with heartbreaking topics like homelessness, foster care, single parenthood and basic human suffering, all with parallel experiences of natural beauty.
Yellow Rose - infidelity or jealousy
(this is a recurring image in the book)
              We first meet the central character, Victoria Jones, as she is leaving her final group home in San Francisco at the age of 18.  We quickly learn that she has anger and violence issues and has had no easy time since birth when her mother abandoned her.  The story follows her as she tries to figure out what to do with this new life, while having no high school diploma, no family, a case worker she evades when possible, and her only "skill" is a love of flowers, a scientific understanding of their growth and a thorough understanding of the ancient "language of flowers."  This relationship with flowers adds a beautiful tone to the novel as they often serve as a mode of communication or at least a time of respite from a world she cannot always handle.
              The novel is told in alternating chapters of present time and past episodes of her life and slowly brings them closer together to explain how she learned about flowers and what went to so wrong at a time in her life when she almost had a home.  There is a love interest too and he is related to her past, which makes it all the more juicy and ripe as an opportunity to explore reconciliation.  While she struggles to find her place in a world that has been hostile, she is lucky enough to encounter several supportive figures who love her in a way she was never able to love herself.  Great read!
              Seeing that I live next to a most amazing garden myself, I thought I would explore what our flowers say.  The book comes with an appendix of a flower dictionary.  I took to the garden with my notebook and a camera and here's what I found.
Iris - Message & Foxglove - Insincerity
Sweet Pea- Delicate pleasures
Peony - Anger

Camellia - My destiny is in your hands

Calalilly - Modesty
Poppy - Extravagance

This bouquet graces one of our altars.  Now of course, just because this language of flowers exists doesn't mean a flower or bouquet can't be appreciated simply for its magnificence.  This bouquet is beautiful and also could mean something very particular.  Orange roses mean "fascination," Dianthus (the red flower) means "make haste," and the Love-in-the-mist (blue flower) means "perplexity."  So perhaps if you had a flirtation going on with someone but the signs were confusing and you didn't know where it was going, this bouquet could say "I am fascinated and perplexed so please tell me your intentions." Or, "you're giving me mixed signals so 'shit or get off the pot'!"

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Summer is Here!

Dazzling temperatures and sunny skies fill the valley this week.  Mid April starts the "summer" or "growing" season here at Green Gulch.  Farm and garden apprentices arrive, flowers start to bloom, practice periods are over, planting, harvesting, and visitors abound.  The general feeling is to give ourselves over to the natural schedule provided by longer days of sunlight, warmer temps that encourage action, and the overall excitement we feel living in one of the most beautiful places ever!  See the "selfy" to the right depicting me, my new sunglasses, and the Green Gulch private pool.

 The weather this week has been amazing, in the 70s all day.  Several swims and lovely evening walks to the other watering hole, The Pelican Inn.  Of course, like last year, we simultaneously enjoy the warm beauty and worry about the lack of rain (it's probably done for the season and we got about 2-3 inches this year.)  Not much, but the iris below sticks out her tongue and says "I'll be ok."  

So as the high season mounts, I work to find a balance between rest and play.  It's funny how quick I can forget or forsake the early mornings I pull 4-5 days a week.  Yes, tonight will be my third night at the Pelican in a week and a half, yes I will be going to Slide Ranch to see music Monday night, the Muir Beach Community Center for a GGF/Slide Ranch mixer and CSA signup Friday, my Grandma's 93 (94?) birthday at the Russian River the day after.  I really could fill every day with something fun but every soul needs a little quiet time too.  We'll see how it goes.
Come visit this summer!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Holbox Island: Your Travel Guide

Here is a link to a bit of the scarce historical information I could find about Holbox, yes there were some pirates back in the day.

General Travel Tips
  • Holbox is pronounced like: hole-bosh (if you want to be super cool drop the 'h' altogether and the second 'o' is not an "ah" sound but an "oh" sound)
  • ATMs are scarce, two functioning ones (maybe 3) on the island but they are unpredictable.  One at the central bank (which is a bit creepy and upstairs from the central lockup or drunk tank) and the other at the Hotel Tortugas (although the receptionist didn't seem super keen on my repeated visits even when thinly disguised as an interest in spa treatments.)
  • The island is 26 miles long and narrow.  On one side it is the beautiful gulf and on the other it is lagoon inlets, so there can be a decent amount of mosquito action.  Only about 6 miles is developed.  A huge portion of it was recently purchased by Coca-Cola...yikes, stay tuned and see the end of this post for some discussion of the politics.
  • You don't have to wear shoes pretty much anywhere.
  • Mostly no one takes credit card
  • The island is visited mostly by Mexicans and Western Europeans and we met an amazing mix of both.
  • Good coffee is scarce if not totally unavailable; at the supermarket the only choice was Nescafe Instant coffee.  So either deal with mediocre coffee or bring your own and do single drip.
  • You do not need to book boat trips ahead of time as far as I could tell

We did not drink the tap water anywhere.  We did eat street food.  There were no GI issues.
  1. Cariocas (not the one on the beach but a few blocks up, little hole in the wall). Truly good Italian food, hella authentic pizza, slightly higher end dining.  Run by Roberta, rad Italian woman with a buzzed head.
  2. Empanadas from a little place with a restaurant above it.  I can't for the life of me remember the name but it's in a bright yellow building and has a white board sign advertising hamburgers too; it's across the street from Luis Ocho's liquor store (one of the few places you can get cases).  There's another empanada place, owned by a local, it's called Empanada Conquista, close to the central square.  I didn't think the empanadas were quite as good but you did have more choices.
  3. Le Jardin, the best french bakery I have every been to.  Stefano, the owner was the sweetest man ever.  We loved chatting with him and hearing about how he built his bakery to be able to attain just the right conditions for authentic french baking.  He also did his baking training in Louisiana!  We tried pretty much all the pastries (brioche, chocolate croissant, roll, banana muffin with nutella) and had a prosciutto pannini, quiche, fresh squeezed oj.
  4. Tortilla shop, locally owned, cheap, delicious tortillas.  It is around the corner from the central bank and has a sign that says Tortilleria.  We would indicate how much we wanted by using our fingers to show the height of the stack.  I think there is another place called Tortilleria but this is different; this one isn't a restaurant, just a one room shop with a window onto the street.
  5. At night next to the central square on the beach side there is a place where many locals and others hang out.  There is a great food truck that sets up tables just outside the square with amazing tacos and more at $1+  There were several other street vendors out at night by the square. Also delish.
  6. I just found this list on Trip Advisor of locally owned businesses on Holbox, it would have been cool to check out more of these places but I have heard that some of them aren't that good.
  7. Tipping: Some places include an automatic 10%.  So I'd say tip at least that if not a little more.  
  • Hostel Ida y Vuelta (Coming and Going) is where we stayed and LOVED it!
    • Run by David(a Swiss) and his partner Sasha (an Italian), Private bungalow with private bathroom for $35/night and we added a little extra to use the A/C cuz it was getting hot.  If you were in one of the cabanas, it is open air (with screened windows) and a lot of breeze so less need for A/C.  David was super helpful.  Told us lots about good food, helped us order cases of beer for our party (delivered on golf cart!), let us throw a party, helped arrange the boat trip with local captains, was just plain chill.
    • It is pretty easy to find upon arrival, even without a taxi (golf cart) ride.  Just start walking down the main road towards the centro and follow the little signs for Ida y Vuelta.
  • While staying at the hostel, which is not on the beach, we had easy quick access to the beach and you could walk down to Tortugas and for the price of a drink have access to all their beach lounging equipment, it's helpful when you want some shade.
  • There are lots (relatively speaking) of hotels to choose from.  Many are very nice and on the beach.  Tortugas, Casa Sandra, El Paraiso, Xaloc, Los Nubes, nice and a little pricey for our budget.  There are not a lot of options as far as nice and locally owned places.  

       The island is running into the classic problem of poor but beautiful places.  People from all over the world have discovered its beauty and laid back culture/vibe.  It's mostly a fishing community and of course being an island, making a living can be tough.  So when people from around the world want to live there and maybe have a small business, they offer locals good money to buy land so they can build a little place.  Locals may have been offering modest rooms in their houses or built a modest rooming house but the new people often have been attracting more visitors.  This is also an island community that gets hit by hurricanes (Wilma) and survives on modest trades (fishing), these struggles lend them to exploitation or at least susceptibility to shady business deals.  For example:
     A bigger issue often develops when HUGE companies like Coca-Cola come and offer people large sums of money to give up rights to their ancestral land (which often contributes to a further breaking down of ancient culture).  Here's a great write up in the LA Times about the current dispute that could result in an approval of "three boutique-style hotels with up to 195 rooms, and as many as 872 residential units, including villas and condominiums."  This article is from October 2012, I'm not sure what is happening right now.  Things to consider.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Highlights of Our Mexican Vacation

Kogen (my husband is generally going by his dharma name) and I just returned from 11 days in Mexico.  I don't think I have take a trip for the sake of just vacation-ing since the honeymoon.  The trip started as attendance to my brother Vince's wedding in Cancun just a few days ago.  We figured if we're going all the way to Mexico we should definitely go for longer than 3 days.  On the 'google' we stumbled across an island off the Yucatan peninsula call Holbox Island (the Yucatan having Mayan roots, 'x' is usually pronounced 'sh').  At first glance it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for: small, quiet, not much to do, fishing village.  We went for it!

We stayed at Holbox Hostel Ida y Vuelta.  A hostel that offered private rooms too.  At first I didn't think I was wanting the "hostel" experience of meeting lots of people, etc. but quickly I realized there were amazing people I couldn't help but fall in love with.  Before we knew it, over lunch in la cocina with Diana and Steven (2 Dutch 30-somethings) we got to talking about the environment and politics and global culture and spirituality and living simple and we just clicked.  They finished up their work for the day and we took a bucket of beers to the beach, watched the sunset, the power outage, the pelicans, listened to a variety of world music, and talked more about life and dreams. We went for tacos and found a local party in the square celebrating one of the saints.  I learned about the drink "Palomita" or Paloma, tequila with Fresca (grapefruit) soda and we danced to crazy music.  Walked home happy and tired.

Another highlight, the cast of friends quickly grew wide: Esli and Alan (2 young Mexican brothers), Julie and Pol (couple, she french, him spanish), Elena and Jeremy (her Mexican, him French), Yentz and Mahali (quiet and cute German couple).  Kogen and I arranged a rager of a party and they helped us celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary.  We grilled 6 pounds of beautiful pork, made guac and pico, got a huge stack of fresh tortillas and made bomb-ass tacos.  We also had a bottle of tequila and a lot of beers.  (I must sadly confess I pooped out way too early and missed so much fun!) Drinking games, dancing (yes there's a video) and a visit from a mapache (raccoon)!  As an anniversary gift Diana and Steven arranged a boat trip for our group of 16.  We fished (yes some Buddhists fish, I did quite well as a fisherwoman), took the boat to the mainland where we swam in a cenote (deep natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of rock that exposes groundwater underneath) and while we swam, the boat captains made the best ceviche I have ever had (did you know that the fish in ceviche is not cooked but the lime juice that is used sorta "cooks" it?)  One more teaching opportunity.  Given that many people partied 'til the break of dawn, the open waters were a bit rough on the system and a few friends ended up a little green in the face.  The lovely Diana suggested that getting into the water may help and it did!  
My little brother! The boy who used to
say "I don't know how to smile!"

Onto Cancun the next day.  I was sad to leave all my new adventuring friends.  But I was on the way to see family.  HUGE change of pace from quiet island to the hustle of "Hotel Zone" Cancun.  We were to join up with the wedding festivities at Sandos Resort an all-inclusive package deal.  We walked in and were immediately offered beverages and a red rose.  Somehow we lucked out and we shared a suite with little brother Brian and his girlfriend Gabrielle.   Slowly the party just gathered and grew at the pool (heated to bathwater temp).  My cousin Jenny and her husband John soon joined us and the 6 of us were something of a Dito-force.  Maybe out of excitement everyone got REALLY rowdy the first night.  Voices got louder, discussions were prone to passion (go figure, politics and the environment had to come up), then moved from dinner to the dance floor.  The energy was irresistible even to those who thought they were tired.  At one point Brian and Vince traded shorts (in the bar) and they 'teen wolfed' beers, luckily they had the sense to do it outside.  We finished the night ordering room service (4 cheeseburgers).  This fun continued and we all overate and overdrank and figured "when in Cancun."  The wedding on the beach was sweet and we danced until our feet carried us to bed.

We left the Mexican vacation for a return to the cool forest, early mornings and the sound of bells.  "Weaving the ancient brocade," as they say in Zen.  All these different strands of life and people and experiences, none of them better than the other, they just are what they are as they present themselves.  What a delight.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Conscious Construction and Leg Shaving

In some schools of Zen, including ours, people talk of "conscious construction," that our entire world as we know it is entirely constructed by our mind.  You can get really deep into the analyses of this idea but at a most basic level it makes sense right?  We can never truly be in someone else's shoes, ours are the only ones that fit.  A great example is that if you ask several people how they remember a certain event they all attended together, they will all say something different.  Or if you feel one way about something that happened to you, chances are you will feel different about it 5 minutes later, 5 hours later, 5 days later, etc. and this has nothing to do with the event changing, you changed.  We bring all of our past (karma) into every moment and it colors what we see.

Bear with me here as I shine this light on the topic of feminism, sex and looking cute (yes I am a little obsessed with these topics lately).  I was talking with my husband about dressing sexy and wanting to look cute.  We may have different perspectives...I think I believe that the experience and pressures of appearance are different for men than women (some may disagree with me and that's cool).  Which brings me to one of my points of personal inquiry: what do I do with the specific baggage that comes along with being me and a woman?  When I want to look "cute" is this simply what men (and other women) have been telling me since I was born ("oh what a beautiful little girl you are!").  Is it possible to look cute, express myself in a way I feel good about, that isn't about being better than other women, consuming (buying and wearing) products made in sweatshops or trying to please some other group by "selling" my body and what it can do for someone?  As humans, how important is it to feel accepted and what does appearance have to do with it?

If I have large breasts does that mean I can never wear anything tight because it is provoking someone and their pornographic fantasy?  Now this may be too much information but what about leg shaving?  As many of you know, I haven't been shaving my legs for quite some time now.  One of the reasons is that it's time consuming, another is, why get rid of something I was born with, another is a big F*** you to people say women who don't shave are manly and unattractive.  BUT I am not at the point where I do it because I think it looks good....(blush, shame) It's easy not to worry about it in the winter cuz I always wear pants but as summer (bathingsuit season) comes I get a little anxious.  I am an Italian woman, which means I have dark hair and a good amount of it and I am not totally comfortable in a bathingsuit.  Now what do I do with that?  Who wants to be stared at, mostly by men, and looked upon with open disgust?  What makes me care about people who act like that?!?!?  

So I have this world view that is consciously constructed by my own mind and includes mainstream ideals of attractiveness.  I have a lifetime of baggage (ie. social feedback) about what is acceptable and what is not.  The wild card is how much control do I have over what I assimilate and what I reject.

The Feminist Current has a great blog post that sort of inspired this post in thinking about how all this objectifying continues.  This is a quote from the post, I definitely recommend you check it out.
"...women shouldn’t have to be sexy and naked in order to get the attention of the media (yet they do) and that this just perpetuates the idea that women are to-be-looked-at. Why do women (and not men) need use their “sexy” bodies to bring about awareness to serious issues like homophobia, dictatorship, sexism and racism?."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taking Refuge in Evil

Jiryu (click left to listen) gave a talk a few weeks ago that blew a lot of minds.  I highly recommend giving it a listen, even if you know nothing about Buddhism, especially if you know nothing about Buddhism.  But he knocked some socks of when talking about a little known sect of Buddhism that, among other things, talks about taking refuge not just in the good but the "evil."  People had a really hard time with that.  It made me think of a common zen phrase is mentioned often around here, "turning away and touching are both wrong."

For example, the ecosattvas (environmentalist bodhisattvas) have been working on a project of figuring out how to change the way San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch invests its money.  (If you thought Buddhists don't trifle with such things as the stock market you are incorrect)  Zen Center is an institution that in many ways is no different than all of the other institutions and corporations we blame for the impending demise of the earth and its inhabitants.  Kogen (my husband) and I seem to respond in ways that to me look a little like turning away and touching.  He is touching the conflict and the pain and feeling it so deeply it sometimes looks like despair and anger.  Whereas I seem to be turning away.  I feel like there is no stopping this train of destruction we're on and maybe also that I know that everyone of us is complicit and we cannot escape participating in some way.  I don't want to see what I can't change.  Both missing the point? Yes I think so.

There is also a saying that "one must be steeped in relative truth before being able to see the ultimate truth."  In other words, we have to slug through all the touching and turning away that humans do, it's called practice.  We will go around and around the wheel of karma (or samsara) of actions and consequences and their consequences and their consequences until...we can truly act from a place with no gain in mind?  I know it sounds crazy!  We debated it for most of one evening's Genjo Koan class.  How we just "sit" here when there is so much suffering in the world?  Are we actually engaging in the world when we sit in the zendo?  When we go out into the world to "fight" the injustice, what exactly do we think is going to happen?  What happens if our goal is not achieved?  How can we work towards something with no gain in mind?

So I think what Jiryu called evil is actually just all those things in the world that are painful, that we don't like.  But they are things caused by humans just like us.  And we wouldn't recognize them as "bad" if it didn't touch a place inside that has felt it before.  So taking refuge to me means not running away from the problems and to let people know you see them and their exactly the same way we want to be seen.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reflections on International Women's Day (belated)

So my first reaction to "women's day" was BARF!  Just what we need, another dumb hallmark holiday to pacify an oppressed group.  But it turns out this is a little more than that, maybe a lot more.  This day was started as part of a Socialist/Communist movement and was decidedly much more political than celebratory.  For an overview, check out my friend Wikipedia.

So let me step back to yesterday, the actual "women's day" of March 8.  It was brought to my attention as we celebrated Mahapajapati Gotami or the Buddha's stepmother and the first ordained woman in Buddhism.  As Eijun Linda Cutts talked about in last night's dharma talk, this awesome event was not without struggle.  Buddha refused to ordain her!!!  Yes you heard it people, the Buddha refused to ordain a woman, refused a second time and then was prevailed upon by one of his followers to acknowledge that women are just as likely and able to attain awakening (enlightenment) as any man.  The struggle did not end there.  Sutra writers (ie. not the Buddha) at some point in time claimed that the Buddha added a few (8) extra rules for his new female disciples.  These included: ordained women, no matter how long they have been practicing must always bow down to a male priest regardless of his length of time practicing, women cannot teach men while men can teach women, and women cannot ordain priests.  Many recent scholars have decided that these rules seem to have come into existence actually 500 years later than the Buddha's time....sketchy!  Or at least goes to show that, like the Bible and other religious texts, their origins are decidedly Man made and subject to constant change depending on the times and the social context or maybe even whims.  What that says to me is that we have to dig deep.  We have to dig deep and examine what parts of tradition are important to keep and why.  Because the "Buddha" said so?  Or because it feels right deep in our hearts, hara and guts.

So when a man on another blog tells me that in his teachings, the Buddha most certainly did address my experience as a woman in the 21 century I politely (sorta) will not accept that.  Sure I can be flexible and adapt things to speak to me but I need to have that freedom without persecution of being un-Buddhist.  I need institutional support and guidance.  There is a lot of discussion in the Buddhist community here in the United States about how Zen is settling in the West.  Traditionalists feel that we cannot make adjustments to "fit" our culture because then Zen will just become some watered down self-help group.  I acknowledge the danger of that while also positing that we cannot simply accept the ancient texts as "Buddha's" words and therefore the only way.  I live in a country where women are allowed to ordain as Buddhist priests and yet I am painfully aware that this option is not available to most female Buddhists in the world.  We are pointing at the conventional truth of an inequality that persists.  Linda Cutts thankfully made the connection last night in her talk that this origin of inequality may be related to the current issues of sexual abuse and misconduct rippling through Zen communities. Even our most beloved teachers who did not engage in "misconduct" are still susceptible to weakness.  Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center, had a first wife who was brutally murdered at his family's temple back in Japan.  His mother-in-law and a few others including other women warned him of their fear of this man but he did not listen.  Why didn't he listen?  Possibly because women were not listened to.  Suzuki Roshi felt the deep regret of that choice for the rest of his life.

So on this day of celebrating Mahapajapati I turn the light inward and reflect on what I can do to be upright and not slander others nor stand helpless or silent.

P.S. Check out this great article about great Zen women featuring our own Linda Cutta and Emila Heller!  Emila's picture showed up when I was looking for a picture of Mahapajapati.