Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shameless Ham

I admit it. I'm a shameless ham.

I guess it's okay--I'm a kindergarten teacher.

More confessions: I added the applause.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Famous Brother

My brother, Jim, is famous worldwide for his work as an artist. He wrote and illustrated the Dinotopia series and is famous not only as a fine artist, but also as an illustrator for National Geographic and of science fiction book covers.

Until today, he's kept it secret that he is the undisputed WORLD CHAMPION Unicycle Painter.

If you have just a minute, take a look:

That's my brother!

Monday, September 14, 2009

How to be as beautiful as a flower

How to be as beautiful as a flower in four easy steps:

  1. Blossom by day; sleep by night.
  2. Pollinate profusely.
  3. Eat organic.
  4. If you get picked, practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Meme — Page 123

Sarah Lulu over at her blog, Normal is a cycle on a washing machine featured this Meme today:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I'm game.

So here, from Pema Chödrön's Comfortable with Uncertainty—the book closest to me when I was reading Sarah Lulu's meme—is my contribution:

"Begin with being willing to feel what you are going through. Be willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of yourself that you feel are not worthy of existing. If you are willing through meditation to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable but also of what pain feels like, if you even aspire to stay awake and open to what you're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best you can in each moment, then something begins to change."

And I'm not tagging anyone. You're already it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lessons for the Living

Over the summer I had the pleasure of meeting Stan Goldberg at Many Rivers Books and Tea. He glows with love and warmth.

Stan's got cancer, serious cancer, and to deal with his cancer, he decided to get acquainted with the dying.

Stan's written a book called Lessons for the Living about his experiences as a hospice volunteer. His book probably won't sell well. Most people seek to avoid thinking about dying and death.

Funny, because dying is the ONE thing you can count on happening to you. Kind of important, too, don't you think? Death deserves more than suppressed thinking.

Stan's book is a worthwhile read, a reminder that happiness and fulfillment do not come from consumerism and material wealth, as advertisers and the government officials who work for them would have you believe.

Happiness comes, paradoxically, from coming into relationship with the murky and mucky but fertile unconscious, like a lotus blossom rooted in pond bottom mud.

Here's Stan, speaking for himself:

...Hospice isn't a place—it's a state of mind, a willingness to compassionately accompany someone on their final journey, not judgmentally but as a friend who was willing to hold one's hand, cry, or just witness the end of life. As I walked that path with more than two hundred people, they became friends who led me into events that I had to face without any emotional armor. It was the first time in many years I felt authentic. These experiences reflected what's important in life more than could countless books and workshops. I watched the joy of a woman whose mouth was wired closed as she smelled a fragrant slice of apple, and I learned to accept what's possible rather than what's desired. I sat with a musician who was listening for the last time to a Grieg concerto, and I understood the beauty of things that had no words. As I played Chutes and Ladders with a child, I felt grief for the first time in my life and I cried as he told me he knew this would be our last game.

Although every one of these people has died—these people who have taught me so much, my hospice teachers—this isn't a book about death. It's a blueprint for living. I participated in events so powerful they grabbed me and said, "Listen, this is important." When I paid attention, I felt a change. It was as if every time I left the bedside of a patient, I stepped into the crispness of a fall morning. Lucky people experience these transforming moments a few times throughout their lives. I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience these spiritual moments almost weekly for the past six years.
In the middle of his talk, Stan played his Native American flute. He plays it for his hospice patients. The music spoke so eloquently that I decided to invite one of these flutes into my life. I play it every day, both as a part of my daily meditation practice and in kindergarten as a musical interlude before we partake of our mid-morning snack. It's a beautiful gift.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What a Wonderful World

When I'm in the middle of the summer I forget how much fun teaching kindergarten is. I think I forget because teaching kindergarten is both exhausting and exhilarating. In the middle of summer I remember mostly the hectic pace while I forget how rewarding it is to connect with so many people.

When Friday rolled around, I was about as happy as Louis Armstrong sounds singing "What a Wonderful World."

Last Friday was not a regular Friday; it was the beginning of a three-day weekend. I was extra happy. I had plans to sail on Tomales Bay with friends. Later in the weekend I had plans to work on my boat, which is fun for me. And, with three days off, there would be time to slow down and temporarily reenter summertime bliss.

I decided to start the weekend with a Friday afternoon walk through town. During the walk I encountered four other teacher friends out and about town doing what I was doing: smiling and relishing the first long weekend of the new school term.

I wanted to order a book, so I went to Many Rivers Books and Tea and who should be there? but a table of good friends having tea. I especially love Walter. He's in my Society of Friends group and brings his 18 year-old granddaughter to our meetings. Walter is my Rabbi/Roshi—85 years old and so full of love he glows in the dark. (He gave me a warm hug and in a sotto voice said, "I love you, man.")

Walter was having tea with Karl, one of our most active local poets, and Mary and Charity who together or separately show up at a lot of the events Sarah and I attend as the Mayor and first man of Sebastopol. Mary is Charity's mom. I think it's sweet that you can find a mother and daughter enjoying tea together regularly most Friday afternoons.

From left: Charity, Mary, Karl, and Walter at Many Rivers Books and Tea.

The weekend which got off to this wonderful beginning turned out just as I had hoped. Better.

We even got around to some autumnal chores like cleaning out the rain gutters before the winter monsoon arrives in a couple of months.

Life is good.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Babemba Way

My Golden State of California is having a major budget crisis this year. We've been spending a lot more than we're bringing in despite having cut deeply spending for social welfare and education. There are lots of reasons for our economic woes, but among them is the fact we incarcerate so many people that we now spend more in California on prisons than we do on state-funded higher education.

We may think of ourselves as very with-it and advanced here in California, but I think we could learn from the so-called primitive Babemba tribe of South Africa. Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace,writes about a different way of dealing with unskillful actions.

"In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end,the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Musical Bodies

I thought my Mindful Heart friends might enjoy a 59 second glimpse into my "work" life. Yes, I'll bet you will.

Oh, yeah!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Let Your Light Shine!

As a kindergarten teacher, one of the first songs I teach my class is the old American spiritual, "This Little Light of Mine." It's a favorite because it affirms—musically—my faith in the transcendent qualities we each possess. Here's a quotation from Maryanne Williamson that expresses my sentiment well:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Single Payer Health Care

Sarah and I went to a vigil in support of a Public Option for health care in the United States. As the Mayor of Sebastopol, Sarah welcomed the crowd, which favored the Public Option.

This is not a political blog. But I must speak out in favor of a Public OPTION.

Now, if you disagree with the idea of a public option, okay. You can opt for private medical insurance.

"But I'll have to pay for the public option through higher taxes," you might object.

Yeah, I know.

But I never supported waging wars against Vietname, Iraq, or Afghanistan and I'm paying for those wars. Sometimes, when you're a member of a society you must pay for things you disagree with.

So look here:

Every country rations health care. America rations health care this very minute.


We ration health care according to wealth. Not according to need.

According to wealth.

If you are rich enough, there is no ceiling on your health care. If you decide to employ a doctor to make your nose pretty and you can pay for it, you can employ a doctor to serve you. Never mind that in any other democracy that same doctor might have done something more urgent, perhaps treated someone—a child?—with terminal but curable cancer.

Here in America, that rich person's pretty nose job gets to cut in line for medical services.

Not only that. Our current system must account for more than medical need: It must also make big profits so it can pay top management their enormous salaries. And that's not all: Insurance companies must make profits so that shareholders can make money on their investments. How can insurance companies be that profitable? Come on, you know the answer: only by charging more in premiums than they pay out for services.

Insurance companies can only make profits when they collect money for medical services they'll never provide.

These built-in inefficiencies make Americans pay more money for less health care than any other developed country on the planet.

Our United States health care system is unique in these ways.

Other developed countries have made the moral choice to provide health care as a basic human right. Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states:

Article 25.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(Emphasis added)

I pray that the United States takes upon itself as a moral duty the obligation to provide health care and education to all its residents. I know it would cost money. Perhaps we can find a way to save money by building fewer space-based weapons, fighter jets, and warships. If we can't, then, yes, my taxes will go up. I could live with that. But a nation that spends more on its military THAN ALL OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD COMBINED could probably afford to trim its military fat enough to do single-payer without raising taxes.

[Has anyone wondered, as I have, how it is that our military, the one that fights to "protect" us from socialism, operates it own socialist medical system? I mean, soldiers don't get medical treatment according to their ability to pay for services, do they?]

The moon over California September 2. Sleep tight!

French Renaissance Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a human quality. Because I first came across mindfulness in the writings of East Asian Zen Buddhists, I got the idea—wrongly—that Buddhists more or less coined the concept. Here's a quotation from a French Renaissance essayist, Michel de Montaigne that gives good expression to the practice of mindfulness arising in France in the 1500s:

"When I dance, I dance, when I sleep, I sleep, yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if any thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time ... I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself." —Michel de Montaigne
And, needless to say, one could find countless other expressions of the practice of mindfulness in every human culture throughout all time. (And, I strongly suspect if we were able to perceive it, we would discover that the wisdom of mindfulness practice pervades all life forms.)

The essential point is to cultivate mindfulness right here, just now.