Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Eddie Long Ya Wrong" (and other thoughts)

Last week I heard about the Black minister Eddie Long for the first time. There was a blog with a posting titled "Dick-Sucking Eddie Long Ya Wrong!!" with a blond woman with sunglasses on. I looked at the title and decided that this could wait.

A few days later more news broke about Bishop Eddie Long. He was being sued by 4 now-of-age men who all claimed that the bishop sexually seduced and abused them when they were in their teens. But I kept seeing this blond woman named "Cadillac Kimberly" with her vblog posting. I clicked on the link. I was amused, amazed, fascinated, but still perplexed. Who is Eddie Long?

If I'm to believe Cadillac Kimberly, Eddie Long is a degenerate. He's a con man, a liar, and the worst type of swindler who sprinkles Bible quotes into 'get-rich' schemes that only enrich his coffers. If I'm to believe Cadillac Kimberly, Bishop Long may even be a pedophile and a gay sodomite (add the word 'gay' is an important point of clarification because the term sodomite merely implies having sex in any area outside of the reproductive system of a woman).

At the end of her vblog she implored the members of Long's church to take 5 minutes and ask the Lord what they should do and to consider if the charges leveled against Long could be true. The short 4 minute clip is hilarious, profane, explicit, and maybe even slanderous. It appeals to my instinct for infotainment, gossip, ill will, and the subtle glee I feel when a man of power falls down. I had to stop watching the clip.

There are a lot of provocative and engaging things said in the vblog but I had to switch my focus away from the gossip and to what questions this brought about in my own practice, my own thoughts. I'm not in Atlanta, I don't attend a mega-church, and before this news broke I wouldn't have known Eddie Long if he was walking right next to me.

I googled Eddie Long and thousands of links came up about donations, volunteers, services rendered by his church to the homeless, the jobless, the destitute. Apparently his church has also donated to AIDS funds in Africa, hosted conferences for women, and looks to have changed a lot of people's lives. There were also links about his Bentley's, his lavish expenses, and high-flying ways. The question became less and less who was Eddie Long and more about 'who am I?'

Who am I to judge? Who am I to decide the intentions of another person? I have no idea who Eddie Long is, but I do know one thing: I'm not taking homeless people off the street. I'm not rendering services to AIDS patients, and donating thousands of dollars to the poor. That doesn't mean that the charges aren't true, but it reminds me of how much I have to reserve judgment on another, especially when it is so tempting.

The gossip is right there, all the necessary pieces: power, money, sex, scams, sinner or saint. All the things that make for pure pop candy and soap operatic intrigue. I could grab at the candy and gobble it down. I could fatten myself on the best or the worst of the world's judgment. But what good is it going to to do me? Is this going to help me in my practice? Is this going to help me become enlightened? Is this even going to make me feel better about myself and my life?

The question of Eddie Long reflects more on the ones passing judgment (me!!) rather than the object being scrutinized.

And what if Bishop Long didn't do it? Does he deserve an apology from me for being entertained by his pain? If I twist my ankle and someone takes joy in my pain how would I feel? The fall calls pain, but the judgment burns much deeper. I have been hurt before and felt the look of pleasure from others in my suffering. It is probably one of the worst feelings in the world. I have also been hurt and had hands of love reach out to help me up. The pain of the fall -in that split second- disappears and my mind switches focus to the hand. I become aware that someone is offering help, someone is offering compassion. And even though the physical pain may return, for one moment I'm aware of love. And it is impossible to feel pain or hurt when I'm in the presence of that amazing healing power.

But then there's also the moral question: what if Bishop Long did do it? Does that wipe away the thousands helped? What happens when 'seemingly good' people do monstrous acts? Does that cancel out the good? Should the homeless be stripped of their homes if they were attained through Bishop Long's so-called swindling? Should the AIDS patients have to give back their drugs if they were purchased by Long 'fleecing' his sheep? I think most people would say absolutely not, that to even suggest that is simplistic and ridiculous. So if we can't cancel the actions, what am I to make of cancelling the good feelings from those actions? It would be logical to conclude that if the deed can't be cancelled out, then the good karmic imprint can't be cancelled either.

As an aside I know many doctors who profess to hating their job. They despise their patients and hate the medical profession. Their passion is golf and they use their medical license to fund their habits and hobbies. But I also know that some of these doctors save people's lives. Even though they may only being doing the triple-bypass surgery so they can buy a new car, does that negate saving the person's life? Taking this truth to an exaggerated extreme: what if I found the best surgeon in the world: someone precise, sharp, always quick to make the right decision, and has never lost a patient. And what if this same brilliant, flawless surgeon had a deep hatred and ridicule for his patients, and was only doing the job so he could buy a mansion and fill it with child prostitutes and illegal drugs? If my mom needed surgery, would I avoid this physician because I abhorred his intentions? Would I risk her life in passing judgment on the man who is trying to help?

I don't have answers for this but it makes me think about my own prejudices. If anything, the Eddie Long situation is another example of how much ill will is still in my heart. I hope things get resolved in the best light. But more importantly, I hope that next time I'm less quick to enjoy in another man's fall.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tropical Depression

There's a storm scheduled to hit Miami tomorrow morning around 9am. As a preview there was a torrential downpour this afternoon. I was walking out of the gym drenched in sweat after an exhausting workout and I looked up and saw pitch-black clouds. I could feel that the air pressure had plummeted and the smell of rain was in the air. Growing up in South Florida, I've become an expert on bad storms. All senses can tap into forecasting. Not only can you hear and see a storm coming, but you really can feel, smell, and taste it. It feels like being on the ocean floor after all the water has just gotten sucked out: you know the tidal wave is coming.

I duck-walked to the car, holding in all my sore places. I sped home but before I exited the parking lot, it had begun. Gentle tapping and then sheets of water falling in heavy layers. Howling wind and low visibility. The traffic slowed and I struggled to stay in my lane as the wind seemed to cut the tires out from under me. I got home and waddled in the door as the local weatherman was buzzing about a tropical depression that's set to hit tomorrow.

The tropical depression mirrors my own internal state that I've been struggling with the last few days. After a weekend of watching football and staying in all day, I felt lazy, soggy, and bored. I know I have work to do but I look at it and shrug. Last night I went to the gym and began cataloguing a list of my thoughts the last few days. The anger, annoyances, anxieties, resentments, fears. The list quickly filled up. Surrounded by news, sports, and infotainment reality TV I was slowly building a way to feel bad. I did a great job.

I wrote out the list asked to have these things removed. I also recounted and wrote all the things I've done to help people the last few days. Then I meditated, did mandala offerings, and went to bed. I slept well and woke up this morning feeling relieved. I began with my meditation schedule, stretching, and keeping my vow book like I do most days.

My Dad's glasses broke earlier in the morning. My mom said "so you said you were going to fix them, right?' I had said no such thing, but I smiled. Sure, I need to get out of the house. I got my Dad's glasses fixes at Dr. Levin, who I've seen since I was 12 years old. He wasn't in the office, but I thanked the nurses and left. I drove to the Nutrition S'Mart store. My mom has obsession with Dr. Oz. Anything he says, she will do or seriously consider. After meditating I found her watching the Dr. Oz describe his new super foods. Today it was Noni fruit. At Nutrition S'Mart I looked for Noni juice and was surprised: there were several options. I choosed the cheapest one that appeared to have a good quality and continued browsing. Dr. Oz had mentioned another food a week ago that Mom was curious about and suddenly I found it right in front of me: Chia seeds. The same chia as in ch-ch-ch-chia pet. Apparently these seeds are ancient sources of health and wellness to the Aztecs. Why not try it once? Then I grabbed some lacinta kale which just happens to be my favorite green and went home. I fixed some Noni juice mixed with apple juice and made a vegetable stir-fry with chia seeds sprinkled on top.

Feeling unusually energized, I went to the gym where I proceeded to work until I had sweat'ed through my shirt and into my shorts. Then I got on the elliptical machine for 30 more minutes. By the time I finished my shirt was shiny and I caught the beginning of this Tropical Depression. For the time being, my own tropical malaise appears to have disappeared into the rain.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Drala (by Kathalina Claudell)

DRALA
By Kathalina Claudell


" Life is a magical emanation" -Lord Budhha

'' You can shift your reality in one second if you get in tune with the magical world" -Lobsang Chunzon

"In Tibetan, this magical quality of existence, or natural wisdom, is called drala."-Chogyam Trungpa


Even thought, I'm a dreaming being,

half woman and half bird,

twin of the Little Prince and sister of a Snowy Owl,

aware of a few things in the cosmos,

I still can't describe most of what I perceive

or had dreamed...



There will be always something I may not be able to explain well.

Who can explain all this? Who can explain

how it feels when the clouds move above their body?

or when the waves come close enough to push us back on the sand.

How can someone explain the silence in the middle of the night

after long days of tears?

or a blank parenthesis

( )

where you decided

just to whisper kindly

to the nothingness

that is beyond your understanding

of "things and events" in this world.



Looking in retrospective,

how many times

we visited that obscure corner of the park

and talk to a tree, a caterpillar or any other entity.

Why we sat in that blue branch and not in the yellow one.?

Why we walked closely to those we feel may know us

from another lives?..

perhaps we want to talk to them

and we'll dream about them sometimes.



Then the days get tinted with the colors of our inner vision

the space turned purple when you didn't expect it

the sky become as a watercolor of Turner

where you couldn't find any figures, but depth

immensity,

sacred tones of white, magenta, cyan

that reflect their own presence in our thoughts.



Running across this landscape

as reviewing an old art anthology

where every piece is a unique composition

or an infinite instant in reality.

I see how those red brushes

reminded me a dance near to the fire in Andalucia

or a mystic encounter in Nepal with a tantrika.

It was not the painter who dreamed that image

while the brush draw the strokes,

but me who found in this creation

the comfort for the journey

glitters of

drala

magia...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"...his mind has been completely transformed"

I was finishing up listening to a holy teaching this afternoon. After doing the offerings and dedications, I stood up and walked to the TV. I turned it on and the screen's black materialized into these colors and shapes. Before the shapes became clear, the voice jumped out of the box in mid-sentence:

"...his mind has been completely transformed."

It turned out to be FOX Sports.

It continued:

"After the accident..."

I flipped around on the channels looking for Sunday football. Recently I was in a bad car accident. It was my first official accident, although I did get into a 'fender-bender' years ago on a slick, rainy road when a pick-up truck whipped out of a parking lot in front of me. In that instance I slammed on the brakes and my car slide all the way into the truck that seemed to whip out in front of me and then just sit there on the road. But the damage wasn't severe and the cop didn't write a report. Everyone went on their merry way, with my Toyota Corrolla sustaining the most damage in a dented front bumper.

No such luck this time around. A week ago, I was driving down Biscayne Blvd at night. I was in an extremely calm mood, having just eaten dinner at a friend's place. James Taylor was playing, my windows were rolled down. I was going the speed-limit pass the heavy construction in downtown Miami. I blinked and a streak of lights zipped across my view. It took me a tenth of second to recognize that the streak of light was a car. In the next blink came several emotion and thoughts: what was this car doing crossing my path, confusion, fear, a sickening recognition of the possibility of death, and desperation to avoid.

My leg flicked my foot and mashed it hard on to the brake. My arms tensed and squeezed the wheel with a vice grip and turned right. My shoulders rose up, protecting my neck. But it was too late.

The streak of light drew closer and closer until it was a few feet away. I cursed and felt the crash. All of these actions, thoughts, words happened in probably a second or less. There is a Buddhist science that say there are roughly 64 thoughts in a finger snap. Being in an accident, made me aware of how quickly my mind could formulate entire worlds, thoughts, rebuttals, emotional floods, reactions.

After the smash, I was instantly aware of a few things in the next second and, roughly, in this order:

I'm alive
I'm conscious
I have eye sight
My arms and legs are free
I'm getting out of this car...ooops, wait let me check...
yes, the door is free to be opened
I'm getting the hell out of this car.

My body was moving out of the car when I became aware that I was in the middle of the street, and potentially walking into the middle of traffic. But my body didn't care. It rocketed out of the car and on to the street for a damage check.

My front was badly smashed in. I saw the other car. It was Black and identical to mine. I didn't see it because the street lights were out, making it seem like a blur of lights crossing my path.

The driver was Asian and holding his sides. I became annoyed and perceived it as a faux attempt at sympathy. My mouth opened to say something and nothing came out. I waited. I sighed, put my hands on my head and walked to the curb. The other drive apologized. I spat out my first words between thin, terse lips: it's all right. I was saying that as much to myself as I was to him. I kept saying that and became aware of something incredible: I wasn't angry. I didn't yell. I wasn't threatening the other driver who ignored a stop sign and veered into moving traffic. I wasn't cursing the world or my luck. I was all right.

Stopping that anger in that first moment was critical. Afterward, I found that I couldn't work myself up. Then I noticed that I couldn't even get angry and thought 'this is pretty amazing. Here is a situation in which the other 'outside' party is 100% in the wrong according to the traffic law. But I'm not angry.' I didn't accuse, threaten, or scream. We got down to business.

He was on his cell and I was on my cell. The police came. The car was towed and I came home. The insurance was notified. And then a check was cut for the value of the car. The value has depreciated but not that much because it was a Honda CR-V. The check was over the trade-in amount because the Honda was in extremely good condition.

I can say that at least in one instance, the concepts of emptiness and karma helped. I couldn't get angry. I got down to the business of fixing the problem. Transforming this accident and my mind.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blizzard of Peace

I think back on the holidays and the seasons as the fall sets in. I remember when I first came to the city in the fall of 2002. War was in the air. Iraq was on the horizon I felt so strange b/c on the one hand I didn't want war, but on the other hand on a true gut instinctive level I thought 'but what does this do? Is this really about stopping a war, or just about being on-record about something that's happening.' Why wasn't it a peace rally? Why was it anti? By the way, this was years before studying Buddhism.

I remember hearing New School'ers talk about going to the protest and asking me if I was going to go and I wanted to say 'yes, sure' but I was frozen. Deep down inside something kept saying 'you know you can't go. It's not going to work. Your entire being will rebel against this faux liberalism, this defeatism that's overtaken left-wing movements.' What ended up happening is I would offer these sheepish muddled excuses about why I didn't want a war, but also wouldn't go to an anti-War protest. I didn't have the wisdom to even argue. Didn't have the scriptural logic of it but just an internal logic clicking through my mind.

When I was in middle school the Rodney King LA riots erupted after the not-guilty verdict. People were enraged. The administrators organized a gathering for students to vent their anger in the last two periods of school. I was 12, scared out of my mind but I asked to be excused from the rally. I would be the only Black person who didn't want to sit and a room and scream about the police while LA burned. People looked at me like I was crazy, an Uncle Tom, a sellout. But something deep inside said 'you can't go to this. It will just be anger. You have enough.' I was shoved down the stairs on my way to a holding room for those students refusing to take part in the rally. I still went, knees shaking. A part of my mind observed the insanity of anger on a macro- and micro-level . A few angry police officers beat up another person who looks like me. This triggers other people who look like me to get angry. But people who look like the police officer are angry and they let the cops go, which triggers many people who look like me to begin burning their own houses and neighborhoods. This spreads to hundreds of cities. People who look like me and then (mostly) people who don't look like me start burning, shooting, killing, stealing because of that initial act. Cascading waves spread to each city, then around the world on TV, in newspapers. And then on the other side of the country people who look like me shove me down the stairs because I don't want to share in their anger. Black people express their anger at racism by shoving a Black student down, by burning Black businesses, and homes. It occurred to me 'but this is the way it's always been going for Blacks, Whites, all people.' This. is. insane.


I left my body and observed this, bookmarked it in my memory as a short, fat, asthmatic 12-year-old nerd gingerly walking (fearing my legs would collapse from under me) toward the holding room for people who didn't want to attend the rally. After school people exploded out of the auditorium, screaming and shouting, faces twisted in anger. Windows smashed, police were called, and a new cycle was formed: people who look like me battling people who looked like 'them' and this all began years ago in LA with a traffic stop. I and the other people in the holding room ran, fearing for our lives, fearing that we would get swept up in 'government-sponsored' hate session that now flowed out into the parking lots, streets, and buses of Miami.



That's when I realized there was that voice that would pop up occasionally and tell me, provide refuge. I don't know where the strength came from to move, to retreat, to run -shaking legs and all. Perhaps it was my Spiritual Teacher this whole time, moving me quietly along.

I didn't insult people who went to the anti-War protest in 2002. I observed politely, quietly. I kept my head down and thought 'what's this all about?' One side screaming this, the other side screaming something else.

Then a week later my friends and I were at a bar and we saw the crimson fires exploding over the skies of Baghdad. Shock and Awe. The war had begun and we were watching in a cozy little Manhattan bar drinking beer and listening to songs on the jukebox. How absurd, how obscene. The bar was neither joyous in celebration nor somber. People were respectful observing, wondering how we should feel. Unsettled but not knowing what to do except drink. There was a deep feeling in that moment, in that room that we were about to enter the rabbit hole, a deep puzzling enigma of violence, pity, greed, absurdity. More drinks, more music! Eight years later we are still trying emerge from that twisted puzzle and I don't know what to call what has happened. Shock and awe.

The next morning there was a heavy blizzard that blanketed Manhattan in a hushing white coat. I went to my early morning class realizing I would be one of the few. The streets were silent and somber and mostly empty. Fresh snow was beginning to pile up in the inches. I trudged to an Alexander Class (posture and mindset). We were asked to engage in deep listening. I would listen to someone talk for a few minutes with all my body and mind. Not leaning forward, but maintaining a deep balance of listening and absorbing. We had to look each other in the eye and no touching.
My Australian friend Jono began talking about his feelings, the silence of the morning, the weariness of the start of this war, his feelings about being alone in NYC during winter. I'll never forget the deepness of his emotion, of his mind when it was just allowed to flow. I didn't interrupt him and actually listened to someone (very rare in our society to do that, you know?) With that level of honesty and connection, I could listen to someone for hours talk about their life, the war, zucchini, anything! Because with that level of honesty someone could be talking about "Star Trek" and they'd really be talking about themselves, their mind, my mind. It wouldn't matter, right? With that level of honesty, stillness, and listening a space was created. Then I spoke about my fears, the war and my conflicting feelings, the need to do something.

We were both crying. Crying and crying but connected. That turned out to be my protest. In the quiet, cold, half-empty classroom in the middle of an early morning blizzard. The day after the bombs had started falling I knew this is what I should have been doing all along. I should have been listening with deep love and honesty. Looking into the eyes and listening, absorbing and trying to remove my hate.

I'll never forget that. There was something very truthful about it. And like I said this was years before taking a Buddhist dharma class. I would always think 'how can I get back to that space, to that place in the peace, where true emotions flow and change begins to happen?'

If we could all be trained, if I could take it with me more, instill it with me more, spread that peace, that deep abiding pool of compassion, love, and openness.

Healthcare, Monsanto, Afghanistan, climate change, Tiger Woods. I'm tired of being outraged. It doesn't work. It's exhausting. It makes the whole world full of shouting, anger, violence, and unhappiness.

My parents watch MSNBC and I'm hearing the words 'should be outraged...' and my mind goes numb. I laugh weakly and nod as I eat dinner 'yeah, I'm outraged. Whatever it is, I'm appalled. You have my bile, my bitterness, my outrage. Add it to the stew.' Take it away from me, please. Take my outrage at others, add it to some bottomless pot and take it out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and drop it. It would explode like some 1950s atomic bomb test. It would wipe out small islands, shake windows, send tsunami waves out for thousands of miles. And then vanish into thin air, shimmering waves of heat that would get absorbed. Or maybe my outrage would crash through the Pacific floor and strike the core of the earth. Opening up a hell mouth that would vomit up fire, forming a mountain of black marble. A stewing cauldron would be turned into a volcano bubbling up lava and ash. Creating new islands, new terra, new life from the cooling lava. Maybe that's how the world is created. From my ignorance. But ocean waves and rain cool the lava, shape it, they outlast the heat. The great endless waves of compassion overwhelm the biggest volcano and turn all that hell into new earth. Paradise.



This holiday season I hope the snow calms the fire.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friendly Fire in Ensemble Studio Theatre's Octoberfest

The Ensemble Studio Theatre presents
 by Aurin Squire

directed by Denyse Owens
 
If a sitting American president is sabotaging a war, do his officers have an obligation to remove him by force? When two disgruntled high-level intelligence officers are forced into early retirement they begin kicking around a hypothetical "what if" scenario that quickly spins out of control.

Friendly Fire is a dark political story about what happens when old spooks, assassins, and friends get together and begin playing games.
 
September 25 at 7pm
on the 6th Floor at the Ensemble Studio Theatre

549 W 52nd Street, between 10th & 11th Aves (map)


"Friendly Fire" is a part of OCTOBERFEST 2010, EST's annual festival of new plays from the artistic membership.

Admission is a suggested donation of $10.

Reservations are recommended!

Email boxoffice@ensemblestudiotheatre.org or call 212-247-4982 x105

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Out of Retreat

I was in a meditation retreat toward the end of the summer in upstate New York. When I came out of it, I didn't feel like writing very much and then decided to come back home to Miami for a month. Now I'm resting in Miami, doing some research for another project and helping out my parents. Over the past two years I ping-pong between New York and Miami. If I had my way I would spend about 6 months in New York, 4 months in Miami and two months in retreat a year.

Dare I jinx myself and say things are going well? I could use more cash flow, but I have enough to travel a bit and take a month or two off. I'd prefer to have more of my dharma homework done. Still struggling with The Art of Reason. I finished all the quizzes and have taken an extended period of time studying for the final. I don't want to leave this class without really knowing it thoroughly. Maybe I'll take a practice final and see how I do.

My Dad has retreated even further. Strokes, blood clots, and decades of diabetes. It's a war zone. His speech is now reduced to single words and a lot of pointing, but the single words don't make sense most of the time. He's parked in front of the TV for 12 hours, interrupted by a few bathroom trips and three meals. I try to encourage walking, but he's resistant. There is no leaving of the house unless it's for a doctor's appointment.

And still, he smiles. He gives a 'thumbs up' as he struggles to and from bed, to and from the toilet seat, to and from the wheelchair. Every transfer completed is a victory. What counts as a victory is any temporary reprieve from potential injury or harm. I smile back. When I came back home, he was ecstatic. Extremely happy to see me. I've never felt so wanted and appreciated in my life. And at every meal there is still a sparkle of that.

His two most common words are 'thank you.' And it's not obligatory or just a toss-away. These two words are said in a whisper that is part relief and part exhalation. He is thanking me, but also being thankful. Thank you for another day, another bath, another meal. Thank you for another day of watching sitcoms, thank you for the blanket to cover his bare legs. Thank you for toilet seats, thank you for water, pills, thank you for being there. Thank you for coming back home. Thank you for being my son. Yesterday I served him lunch and he looked at me. Before he could say it, I blurted out 'thank-you-for-being-my-father-you-did-so-much-and-I-appreciate-it.' Then I gathered up the dirty cups and turned away. He nodded and began eating.