31 October 2008

Religulous Fanatics

Everyone I know that's seen Bill Maher's movie, "Religulous," loved it. Sixteen percent of Americans apparently identify as atheists or agnostics, so why are we letting people who believe in literal virgin births and talking bushes call the shots? Let's sock it to those religious fanatics!

This the explicit premise of the movie, an atheist call to action. A further premise I would add is the following: We're not letting the Evangelicals be the only ones who don't listen to, and badger, people who disagree with them - now we can be condescending know-it-alls too!

It reminded me of the famous British atheist and Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins. Specifically a film I saw at the Roxie a few years ago that was a compilation from his BBC television series...I believe it was called, "Root of All Evil?" in which Dawkins proceeded to cross the globe harrassing religious people and in so many words, telling them they're stupid. Actually even though Dawkins is obviously an influence (e.g., looking for 'evidence' of miracles, citing the story of Lot's daughters from the Bible), he's almost subtle compared to Maher.

Maher let very few of the people he spoke to get a word in edge-wise. He spoke very quickly, asking for evidence, for example, for the virgin birth. When the person opened their mouth to reply, he would rapid-fire several more questions. Maher got up and walked out on the one guy who wouldn't let himself be interrupted. To me it looked like his primary purpose was to make everyone look like an idiot, thereby "proving" that atheists are superior, and religion is bad.

Religion helps a lot of people. I'm not saying it's perfect or unproblematic - in fact religions cause and continue to cause a great deal of harm in the world. But it's obvious that both Maher and Dawkins do not really understand what they are criticizing and this is probably the fundamental flaw. To me, Maher looked like an ass in most of the film, exemplifying some of the intolerance he is perhaps meaning to criticize.

But maybe this kind of thing is good, and necessary: Fundamentalist Christianity has a lot of power in this country, and us 16% types should no doubt start expressing ourselves more without being afraid. I hope that Dawkins and Maher are right and that their films do some good. May atheists claim their birthright, and acquire even a fraction of the zeal possessed by their monotheistic counterparts.

Religulous on IMDB

Richard Dawkins on Wikipedia

Story of Lot on Wikipedia

26 October 2008

My Dharma Job

In morning meditation thoughts of what needs to be done for the Center often arise. It occurred to me that most other people's jobs must be much more separated from their personal life than mine. They get home and forget about work, because when they are at home they are in a different world.

My job is not separate from my personal life. When I am sitting, I am in the building I work in, teach in, schedule, and manage. When I am sitting, I am in the building in which most of my practice has happened for many years, where guests and visiting teachers stay, where my neighbors are, where my friends often are, where I have seen many people come and go, where I have lived since 1994. This means both that different areas of my life are very integrated...and that sometimes in meditation my working ground is the 'Center to do' list.

I did some part time work as a grant writer the first couple of years after I became Director of the Center in 2002. I discovered what the Federal Poverty Standard was and that it matched my pay at that time. (Now it's a bit more!) However this work gives me what I consider to be a high standard of living. Not in terms of material things (though mostly I feel I have enough of those), but in terms of quality of life: space and flexibility to my days, and doing work that I not only find meaningful but which is actually very central to my life in terms of the people, the ethics, and the mission. This is a great luxury, as it were. I do not work for money...What could be less American? I know others in San Francisco follow alternative lifestyles, which is one of the reasons I love this city, and cities in general: so much oddness.

I do not always use the relatively leisurely lifestyle I have to the fullest. I have spent a fair amount of it being annoyed that more people don't help (it has been some years since I felt this way.) I spend some of it trying to motivate, or doing things that aren't the priority (which is sometimes meditation or doing nothing.) I'm kind of a compulsive worker and this is something I've worked on since I've had this job. My boss, the Dharma, continues to patiently prioritize harmony and awareness.

Another aspect of my Dharma work is that I do not have the same level of independence as someone with a more conventional job. I depend on the Center for my basic needs and very little beyond that. It's kind of a strange situation to be in, especially because personality-wise I am quite independent. It has taken a lot of getting used to.

I still have some anxiety. What if this or that happens? How long will I be happy doing administrative work for the Center, and when the happiness stops, what will I do? What if I get cancer? When I am 70 will I be working the graveyard shift at 7-11, standing on my feet all day, dodging bullets?

Next spring will usher in my longest retreat to date, the 3 month women's ordination retreat in Spain. After that, I will see how my life is going, and see how important money seems. Everything could change then, or sooner.

Who Does What at the San Francisco Buddhist Center/FWBO

Akashavana Retreat Center in Spain is where I will be next spring

No Time to Think (Talk by Professor David Levy)
Includes quotation from German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper who in 1947 wrote, “Leisure is a form of stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality. Only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still cannot hear.”

23 October 2008

San Francisco Voter's Guide UPDATES

These endorsements are based on a 2-hour conversation that happened tonight between Dawn, Sharon, Pete, Rich, Mike, Lisa, Gabe, Ethan, Leef, and myself. Many come from consensus but there were some differing opinions. Please post a comment if you would like to add something.

See also: State Initiatives Voters' Guide blog posting. The following websites provide more information about the San Francisco initiatives:
Bay Guardian--San Francisco Measures
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association
San Francisco Democratic party endorsements
NOTE: Red and/or capital letters means the vote is clear and strong. A question mark means marginal, that the issue remained somewhat opaque no matter how many sources or opinions were voiced...

Sf voter results came from SFgov.org.

A: San Francisco General Hospital bonds YES (SF voted YES 84%)
Everyone is for this one.

B: Affordable housing fund Yes? (SF voted NO 51%)
SF Democratic party and Bay Guardian are for this.

C: Ban city employees from commissions No? (SF voted NO 63%)
Spur.org, SF Democratic party, and the SF Bay Guardian are against.

D: Financing Pier 70 waterfront district YES (SF voted YES 68%)

E: Recall reform Yes (SF voted YES 60%)

F: Mayoral election in even-numbered years Yes? (SF voted NO 55%)
Those against think that local elections will receive less attention from voters if merged with national elections and that this eclipses the benefit of a greater voter turnout.

G: Retirement system credit for unpaid parental leave YES (SF voted YES 63%)

H: Clean Energy Act YES (SF voted NO 60%)

I: Independent ratepayer advocate No (SF voted NO 64%)
Everyone says No on this one.

J: Historic preservation commission Yes (SF voted YES 56%)

K: Rights for sex workers YES (SF voted NO 58%)

L: Funding the Community Justice Center No (SF voted NO 58%)

M: Tenants' rights YES (SF voted YES 60%)

N: Real property transfer tax Yes (SF voted YES 59%)

O: Emergency response fee Yes (SF voted YEs 63%)

P: Transportation Authority changes No (SF voted NO 68%)

Q: Modifying the payroll tax YES (SF voted YES 74%)

R: Naming sewage plant after Bush No (SF voted NO 69%)

S: Budget set-aside policy Yes (SF voted YES 54%)

T: Free and low-cost substance abuse treatment YES (SF voted YES 62%)

U: Recommend defunding the Iraq War NO or NO VOTE (SF voted YES 60%)

V: Recommend bringing back JROTC Yes? (SF voted YES 54%)

20 October 2008

Breaking Up - 3 Acts

I. The other day I was talking about my imminent divorce to a friend with one of his own. I listed these alternating feelings:
  • ...like a failure for the relationship ending.
  • ...like a jerk for thinking for so long that the relationship would work when it so obviously was not going to work.
  • ...relieved and free.
  • ...love/connection.
  • ...grief.
  • ...for moments not remembering why I wanted it to end.
My friend said he had had all these feelings about his relationship too.

II. A group of friends last night helped me realize that when I am in pain I have a very hard time relating to people, especially to people I'm close to. I probably have the hardest time relating to myself, just feeling it, not fighting it or holding it at bay. I had had a few slightly disjointed-feeling conversations, where I appeared to be, and no doubt was, insensitive. It's very weird, and not unfamiliar. A feeling of being remote, like an astronaut looking at the earth.

So today when someone I don't know very well asked me how I was, I said "slightly depressed."
She replied that she was very depressed. Turned out it was a good way to start a conversation.

III. We are connected to who we are connected to. We don't really know why. We can act like we're not, or cope with it in various ways, but we can't stop the connection.

I have noticed that people make assumptions about a relationship, like that if you're married and you don't live together, there is something wrong. You may not notice this if your relationship conforms to expectations. There are many more assumptions about a marriage, but perhaps it is simply that I am the one with the wrong - or at least not that useful - perspective on marriage. Perhaps it is an area that I have little confidence in myself, so I feel, or care, that I am being judged.

Other people seem to be more into their relationship, more interested in being in a relationship, than I am. But perhaps no, perhaps it's something else...about how possible it is to appreciate and maintain that particular connection in the face of actual personalities and every day life. So maybe it's not so much about how 'into' relationships I am, but rather with whom that mysterious connection tends to happen, and how much said person resembles someone I would be friends with, and how problematic that connection ends up being. In other words, am I often drawn toward characters that I have a difficult relationship to, and that's why I'm perhaps less interested than most in being in a relationship? Or am I just ambivalent about relationships and that is all? Or are we drawn toward each other to work out some unconscious karmic knot, but neither of us have the patience or perseverance to work it out?

Videos to Watch
The Story of Love and Hate by Radio Raheem

Otters Holding Hands at the Vancouver Zoo

Otter photo above came from The Journal of Young Investigators

17 October 2008

To Speak Of Fat, Or Not To Speak (That Is A Question)

For as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about wanting to lose weight. She is maybe 20-30 pounds overweight. She talks about how much weight she wants to lose, how much she’s lost if she’s lost any, about how she shouldn’t be eating what she’s eating, but how long it’s been since she’s eaten it. She says she’s serious about it this time. Lately there is more urgency to it all because her doctor has told her to lose weight, and she thinks losing weight might mean she could stop taking blood pressure medication.

So what we end up with is a kind of an ongoing narrative about 1) her self-assessment of her body, especially its weight, and 2) what she should be doing, but is usually not doing, or not doing enough of, in order to achieve her goal. When she makes a casual comment about my body - even if it is a compliment (but it usually isn’t) - it feels invasive and unkind. In short, it makes me want to eat my socks.

Of course ordinarily we swing between two extremes in reacting to our parents – even if we think we’re too old to be doing so - by which I mean either taking the same approach around a particular issue, or doing the exact opposite. There seems not to be a lot of ‘middle way’ here sometimes. For me this would mean either sharing a continuous commentary about my body and my diet, or else not talking about it at all. I have chosen the latter. It may have its own problems as an approach, but one can’t bore people, or at any rate one must find other ways to bore people.

I am 45. For the last several years, without changing how much I eat or exercise, I have been gaining about 5 pounds a year. In the spring I resolved to take off some weight, so I took a swimming class, which was absolutely stellar in terms of a workout, and which left me so eternally hungry that I ended up horking down twice as much food as usual, and gaining weight. (Not just gaining muscle mind you!) For the last few years I’ve tried various approaches that didn’t work, often gaining weight as a result. I’m getting older and recently have come to the inevitable conclusion that the essential choice is between 1) being old and feeling good physically, or, 2) being old and fat and feeling low energy. The choice seems pretty clear, not that it’s an easy one for some of us.

So about a month ago, noticing that a friend who had joined Weight Watchers was losing weight, I decided to join as well. I have lost 15 pounds and am planning to continue, slowly, over the next several months. The reasons are partly vanity, and partly health-related, partly that I want simply to feel lighter on the earth.

Strangely, the hormonal changes that have started happening have helped me motivate. A few months ago I started having PMS (read: feeling very stressed) for about three weeks per month. It was really unpleasant. My mom told me that if I got exercise that would take care of it, and she was right, so far. So I have been really motivated to exercise - if I don’t, say, for one or two days, I feel tremendously stressed and anxious. The cause and effect here is very straight forward, whereas often such connections are harder to directly grasp because results happen so slowly. Although I did feel sorry for myself initially (especially when I would have what seemed almost like an anxiety attack), perimenopause has basically helped me to start taking better care of myself, which I am grateful for.

The greater challenge will be keeping it up - something I have never managed to do. It’s a big lifestyle change, and it takes a lot of conscious effort not to eat, or to eat a reasonable amount of, the processed, sugared, carby food that fuels life in America. Being a vegetarian takes even more effort.

But at this moment, I feel healthy and alive. I realize that there is more enjoyment for me in eating than there used to be. My clothes are loose. I have noticed that I need less sleep per night, and it’s easier for me to wake up in the morning. I have happily ridden my bike to Ocean Beach a few times from the Mission - yesterday was stunningly beautiful. I lift weights at the gym and for the first time in my life I actually enjoy it. I am occupying my body in a new way.

Some References
I highly recommend any book by Michael Pollan. (I have read The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

16 October 2008

Bliss Hangover

Last weekend I co-led a 3-day weekend retreat with Padmatara. There were 26 of us. On Sunday night we walked in silence together up to a ridge that looks over the hills toward the ocean. An almost-full moon shined on us, lighting up the dry golden grass. We chanted for a little while then just sat for maybe half an hour. I felt full of energy, and blissful. The next day I woke up with a headache, and was tired all day.

This retreat seemed to have a particularly loving atmosphere. And I wonder: Why can’t we live this way? Why don’t we all live together, cook for each other, remind each other what’s important, meditate together, allow silence together, and give each other little thoughtful gifts? I know why. I’m just saying.

Some References

Cultivating the Inner Retreat

09 October 2008

State Initiatives Voter's Guide UPDATES

Here are my recommendations and election results according to LA Times Nov 5, and the San Francisco Chronicle Nov 6. Results are in parentheses, with statistics for California (CA) and San Francisco (SF).

1A: high speed rail YES (CA YES 52%)(SF YES 79%) This is awesome!
The High Speed Rail Authority just released its study of the economic impact to the Bay Area of the high speed rail bond. The study concluded that the program would bring between $7 and $9 billion investment to the region, and spark a sustained employment increase of 1.1%.

On a more personal note, we need more public transportation in California; everyone shouldn't have to have a car. This kind of 'socialism' is something that would be a given in Europe or even on the East Coast. I wonder if Californians with car-attachment can imagine traveling on a good train service rather than endless traffic jams, pollution, and substandard bus and train services that aren't connected to each other.

2: care of farm animals YES (CA YES 52%)(SF YES 73%)
Compassion for beings which includes chickens, even though, heaven forbid, eggs will probably cost more when the chickens are given space to stand up, etc. The arguments against, like that this will spread avian flu, are ludicrous.

3: children's hospital NO (CA YES 63%; SF YES 60%)
Funds from last initiative (passed in 2004) have not been used yet.

4: parental notification NO (CA NO 54%; SF NO 76%)
Felt the same way in 2005 and 2006 when this measure got nixed by California voters.

5: nonviolent drug offenses YES (CA NO 60%; SF YES 61%)
5 & 6 oppose each other so don't vote the same way for both!

6: law enforcement funding NO (CA NO 69%; SF NO 80%)
Rather than building more prisons for creating more monsters, stop sending so many people there, especially nonviolent small time drug users.

7: 20% renewable energy NO (CA NO 65%; SF NO 69%)
PG&E, Reps, Dems, SF Chronicle + a huge list of other organizations are against it, including environmental and solar businesses. Endorsements are a short list of individuals (such as Danny Glover!) Here are some specifics about why it's poorly written: "Strange Bedfellows Oppose 'Green' Proposition 7"

8: elim. same sex marriage NO (CA YES 52%; SF NO 76%)
This is just completely stupid, not sure what else to say about it.

9: criminal justice changes NO (CA YES 53%; SF NO 63% )
One of those things that 'sound good' but that aren't really helping anything and are making things worse in fact by putting even more people in prison.

10: alternative fuel vehicles NO (CA NO 60%; SF NO 64%)
This was funded by a company that makes natural gas running cars...Other kinds of alt. fuel make a lot more sense.

11: redistricting NO (CA YES 50.5%?; SF NO 64%)
I don't claim to fully understand this. Republicans are for it.

12: veteran's bond act YES (CA YES 63%; SF YES 69%)
Pretty much everyone is for this one.

See Also
San Francisco Measures

01 October 2008

Holding a Fake Hand

Last night I dreamt I was lying in a hospital bed, a few months pregnant. I couldn't remember who the father was, as if conception had happened years and years ago. Thinking about it now, I was younger in the dream. I lived with my parents. Anyway it wasn't a happy occasion and I felt very vulnerable.

The hospital I was in had to be evacuated, so a nurse came in to get me ready to leave. (Many of these conditions I recognize from conversations I've had and books I've read recently.) I felt afraid and lonely and reached for the nurse's hand. Holding his hand made me feel much better and the anxiety disappeared. Noticing that the nurse was still going about the business of getting me ready to leave, I looked down and saw I was holding not his hand but a very realistic rubber hand affixed to the side of the bed, no doubt to comfort patients.

I thought, Fascinating, a fake hand - and it works. I must blog about this!
(image from internet - sorry, lost source)

Dream Influences
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

"Rethinking Life and Death" by Peter Singer.

Reading a housing-wanted flyer posted by a male nurse last night.

Listening to Jaimie Warren talk about working night-shift in a hospital.
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