Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Are we making progress individually?

  • Our family?
  • Our community?
  • Our region?
  • Our planet?

How do we know?

In order to tell, to compare, to decide how to use scarce resources, we have to measure in some way, and every measurement is going to contain cultural biases, be incomplete and contain some emphasis that becomes self-fulfilling.

For those of us that accomplish more than we rebel, the phrase “what you measure is what gets done” applies.

So, what do we measure and how does it relate to making real wealth, a real good experience with the prospect of real good experience for others in the future?

I’ll be attending the “Slow Living Summit” in Brattleboro, VT this week – June 1, 2, 3  (http://www.strollingoftheheifers.com/slow-living-summit). Come.

I know quite a few of the presenters. Many are visionaries, and doing practical work, trying to cobble together a coherent effort to achieve a sustainable society. To work together rather than disparately, to make something real and dependable rather than utopian and speculative.

Much of it is against the grain of conventional urban/global economy.

(Geography affects our vision of utopian. Specifically, that north of Hartford, CT, on the Connecticut River there are distinct cultural shifts. Hartford and Springfield house the global insurance centers of the world, serving global literally. The global commercial market vision is the utopia.  Springfield and Holyoke house the formerly regional industrial center of New England. When one reaches Brattleboro, the site of the “Slow Living Summit”, the inaccessibility of the stream watershed hollows define a world of rural self-dependance more than community inter-dependance, more than regional economy, or global economy. The shift in worldview in that short 80 mile stretch is distinct, profound, divisive.)

The ruralist consciousness of Brattleboro is the host of the Slow Living Summit. The global economy is what you read about in the New York Times and on cable television. Not surprising.The sustainable rural economy is the content of the summit, and is actually another vibrant source of future visions.

The concepts of living well in nature has gone far (actually cyclically given the degree of wealth and social complexity that Indian society was able to achieve). We have the integrated thinking of permaculture that integrates practical and efficient food and shelter services with aesthetics with personal liberty and with the ecological world beyond our immediate experience and affects.

The rural/urban dichotomy will be a conflict (or negligence) of the summit, inevitably. The rural sustainable solution is more anarchic. The urban sustainable solution is more designed.

That dichotomy will infuse the question of “how do we tell?”, as the question includes the assumptions of differing social values, and particularly which ones are relevant and/or controllable.

As the measure of our success is our experience, my feeling is that the  metric of social welfare must be results based and not preference or strategically based.

In a nutshell, we can tell if we are making progress if we achieve:

1. Current survival and functional minimum necessities for all in the geographic scope that we are investigating. Food, shelter, water, warmth, clothing, health care, transportation, education.

2. Confident survival and safety in the foreseeable future

3. Interpersonal connection, love, friendship, family (society)

4. Work and service accomplishment and basis of earned respect

5. Spirituality in action, spirituality in contemplation/aesthetics

How do we know we are succeeding? What do we measure? How?


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Anybody remember Michael Dukakis theme song in his run for president in 1988 (from a song by “Timbuk3?”)

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.

What’s important?

  • Surviving
  • Relationships/friendships
  • Accomplishment/respect
  • Justice
  • Ecology
  • Spirituality

How’s your present? How’s your future look?

  • Health
  • Happiness
  • Good work
  • Relationships

Your family’s present? Your family’s future?

Your community’s present? Your community’s future?

  • Participatory culture
  • Public health
  • Employment
  • Ecology
  • Governance

Your region’s present? Your region’s future?

  • Integrated economy
  • Ecology
  • Governance

Our planet’s?

By how we live and the work that we do intentionally, we make a world in which “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.

We are  co-creators, the leading edge of all evolutionary and cultural tradition.

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I have a very religious son, a chasid, who is visiting during a break from his studies at a yeshiva in Paris.

We had a conversation yesterday  (probably more me speechifying) on how to remember the sacred in work, and in the world.

I’ve known many that have proposed approaches to accomplish that sanctifying of real life, but few that have actually done it, and dependably. It seems to rest on questions of what is the purpose of human life, beyond just surviving and enjoying.

In Jewish thought there is a dichotomy between sanctification (noting the presence the “ONE” in all actions, relationships and things) and idol worship (worshipping the work of one’s own or others’ hands). I also see it in the process of feeling shame (giving power to others’ rather than to the “ONE” to judge. God  judges, but consistently forgives and transforms. People only judge. Good friends forgive and assist in transformation.)

So, I’ve learned that the process of thanking cuts through the norm of taking our world for granted. It particularly affects how one relates to money and all economic activity.

Our current economy dehumanizes. We exchange without any appreciation for the work and natural gifts that went into products/services. The specialized structure of the economy divorces MANY from productive contribution, from livelihood, from meaning. And, the large capitalist anonymous economy creates a slow sucking of value from nature, people to capital. (I hate to sound like a rabid Marxist, but it still is true.)

So, the question to me is how can the economy be humanized? And, the question to my prayerful orthodox son is how can economy be sanctified?

To humanize economy, to humanize our relationship to it, starts with our thanking. I daily pick up a product that I’ve bought (its astounding how many products pass through my family), and ask “what work was done to get this to me, for me to use?” The answer is always MUCH more complex than it looks.

A pen. The parts of the pen are the plastic covering, plastic ink holder, ink, metal/plastic tip, plastic pen cover. It came in paper packaging with sealed plastic film covering. I bought the pen at a Staples store, with checkout (a large process, not just a single person), stocking, ordering, lots of indirect overhead expenses. It was shipped to the store, involving loading, driving and fuel and vehicle, unloading. Before that the product was packaged, boxed, palletized, moved around a warehouse. Before that the batches of pens were assembled, usually with machiness, inspected. Before that the materials were compiled, the plastic molded, the ink chemically mixed, the metal head cast. And so on and so on.

Each of the persons that contributed to each of these processes has a name, a body, a mind, emotions, a personal history and current situation, mostly likely some struggle.

Each of the processes was done in some locale, where money is sent in compensation for the work, to contribute to their local or anonymous economy.

Maybe 400 people could be identified as contributing to getting this pen designed, made, packaged, delivered, distributed, sold. Each with a name.

I thank each of them individually. “Thank you for packing this pen in pallet # 24000657”. “Thank you for mixing ink chemicals”. “Thank you for packing the mixed ink chemicals in preparation for delivery to the pen assembly plant”. “Thank you for putting this pen packaging on the shelves.” “Thank you for accepting my money in payment for the work that went into the pen.”

My money, my spending, shifts to an embodied “thank you”. A humane business executive paying his employees, would convey my thank you to the employee accompanying the payment of their compensation check (or electronic transfer). How do you say thank you in the process of an electronic funds transfer?

For my son, at each phase, has to be added, “Thank you Creator of the universe for providing x employee with all of their needs so that they can healthily make my new pen. Thank you Creator for creating the laws of nature and physics, from which the material to make the pen originates. Thank you for your presence in my using the pen, in the consciousness of all that contributed to me getting and using the pen.”

As a daily exercise, this will change you, even if poor, underemployed, spread thin.

More than choice, thanks. More than thanks.

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Growing Up?

I’ve been surprised that even at 56 years old, I can change, learn things, even fairly fundamentally change important things in my life. And, I’ve been made aware that the things that I have learned, I have to reinforce to continue to be functional.

I like it. Just dreaming is over.

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I’ve started praying regularly, Jewish prayer, three times per day per rabbinic instruction and guidance.

Its changed me, for the good.

It gives scope to my expansive and imaginative side, and at the same time reinforces the sober promise of living well and kindly and confidently in the actual world.

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I’ve been invited to explore racism. The stimulus for the inquiry was a discussion on another blog, Mondoweiss,  by an old friend (I hope he is still), Philip Weiss, who has opened up a similar inquiry there.

I want to take this time to first explore what racism is, how it plays in my inter-personal relationships and how it gets expressed in collective consciousness and later in political policies.

In all respects, I’ve been a perpetrator or bearer of racist attitudes, a victim of racist attitudes, personally determined to break through racist attitudes, and a healer in some cases of racist attitudes.

I’ve perpetrated racist attitudes almost entirely in the form of keeping emotional distance, originating from a combination of unfamiliarity and fear. I don’t believe that I’ve actively encouraged racism really at any time in my life, towards anyone. I very easily and quickly see past the surface of skin or culture, to face and person.

I’m Jewish, and the context of the discussion originated in the inquiry into prospective anti-Arab racism associated with the institutionalization of harms to civilian Palestinians, and also public propaganda of Arabs associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

There is so much racism floating around, that its almost difficult to isolate and analyze. My family had similarly mixed attitudes to mine. My father and my mother had very different approaches. My father was outwardly offended by racist comments (really towards anyone) and would silently rage about it, rarely even talking about it to family (except my mother, whom he felt permission to argue with). In practise, he was kind, assertively so, forgivingly so. He had two experiences of black employees stealing from him. One was a long-time employee who stole $10,000 of merchandise from him annually over at least a ten year period. My mother spoke of him in the worst terms you could imagine.

The other individual was young. My father had grown to trust him to make regular bank deposits. At one point he skipped off with the money and disappeared. It was striking to me to hear the contrast between the language that my parents used referring to the two different individuals. Both my father and mother forgivingly stated that they understood the life-stress that he was under, and that he gave in in moments weakness, in contrast to the rage they felt of betrayal by their long-term employee.

The irony was that the man that stole over an extended period was more outwardly compliant, deferential. The young guy was more assertively black, clothing, outward support for more assertive black leaders.

May father also strongly supported civil rights efforts and legislation very early from my memory. (I don’t remember specifically – I was 5, but heard later that he had contreversially anti-racist opinions about proposed busing in our hometown in New Rochelle in 1960).

My mother was different. She expressed racist comments periodically, but when a real person needed her help, really in any way, she stood up and more vocally than my father (financially, legally, protection from insult). Growing up, a black woman cleaned our house regularly. She was both part of the household and definitively not, a household employee. Another neighbor visiting spoke of her derisively, and was never invited to our home again.

I knew very few non-Jewish people as a child. Fewer blacks. Prejudices broke down fast in the late 60’s, when everyone my age started smoking pot, and also playing music together. Color was nothing. There were some cultural divides, different networks of friends, different ways of speaking, reacting to things. It was new to have black friends, to go to black neighborhoods to hang out sometimes.

Race was a sensitive subject. We never talked through race, neither the liberal Jewish white community, nor with black friends. We mostly avoided the subject.

Still, us liberal Jews were afraid of black neighborhoods. We were afraid of Italian neighborhoods, not so afraid as feeling excluded from wasp neighborhoods, very afraid of the south (the murdered freedom riders – from our hometown, and Easy Rider, each imprinted).

I never met an Arab until much later. My uncle and others hated Arabs (some certainly prejudicial, some confirmed by hard experiences he told about very very briefly of his WW2 service in North Africa).

In the early 70’s and later, more and more of my black acquaintences and tentative-good friends, also became more aware of race, in the form of black pride and identification.

The things that progressively broke the racial hesitancy for me were just spending time, meditation itself and the experience of meditating with others from different communities, and most pronounced was relying on someone from another race or culture to defend me or protect me in ways, and vice-versa. That hastened the breaking through. Ironically, the same time that I was breaking through, my friends and acquaintances were just learning of black pride and identification. I was personally hurt that some of my black friends didn’t keep up contact after high school, but I accepted their growth path.

In the mid-70’s, when I was a zealous food coop advocate, I worked with a black preacher in my hometown to set up buying clubs. I had an agenda beyond social service, to convince everyone to become vegetarians.

I’ve used conspicuous flaunting of my “anti-racism” at times, as almost a form of racism. “One of my best friends is black”. True and also self-advertisment.

I had an Arab part-time study partner in business school. But, he was so refined, cosmopolitan and affluent, that he seemed “white” to me. He lied low entirely. He did not draw attention to his ethnicity, nor to mine. We just worked together on computer code and systems configuration.

Through the yoga/meditation group that I was associated for a long time, I did meet many non-white, non-western trustable individuals. People were encouraged to inter-marry racially (though few Americans did), and a few adopted black, Indian, South Asian children. Accepting people from different genetics or culture into ones home (especially with the deep and intimate trust of childhood) certainly obliterated any residual racial attitudes.

Family, friends, solidarity, spirituality, music, intoxication (pot) broke through racial superficialities for me.

Contact in a word.  Acceptance of skin color, of upbringing (I’m the only person I’ve ever met that had the same history as mine, that’s a joke, but also not), of emotions, of personal history, of social history.

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“My Favorite Things”

One of my heroes, John Coltrane, would play his interpretation of “My Favorite Things” frequently in gigs from the late 50’s until his death in the mid-60’s.

I can’t imagine what he was thinking while he was playing, but I would like to think that he was reflecting on what he loved and enjoyed in life as he wailed away spontaneously, digging for the truth through the alchemy of his playing.

At a bat-mitzvah that I went to about two years ago, I sat with a few musicians (including Jeff Watts, formerly drummer for Wynton and Branford Marsalis, I’m name-dropping, how lame), and we went around the table, yelling or stating single phrases of “my favorite things”, as is suggested by the song lyrics.

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things”


Meditation at sunrise

Short prayer reminding me of my humanity and determination

Walking my dog towards Sachem’s Head

John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” on my mp3

A vigorous bicycle ride

A good conversation with an old friend

New projects that can actually do some good in the world

Good dreams in which individuals with whom I had conflict smile and hug me

Well cooked brown rice and chili

Minor 9th chords

Reminders of purpose

Reminders of mortality

Skillful massage

Sailing in brisk weather, close to but safely not capsizing

Canoeing on the Connecticut River

Hearing my son nail a piano solo

Love in the morning

Love in the afternoon

A  job well done

90 years of first hand stories, and another 90 of second hand

This breath


I hope that I added some value to the world, just by enjoying.

Please comment.

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