BYObama

BE YOUR OWN OBAMA!

arlyn

As we move closer to the date when Barack Obama steps into power, there is an enormous sense of anticipation.  There are those who are floating on cloud nine, and there are those who are down in the basement of cyncism.   Somewhere in the middle lies a place of hope, possibility, and realism.   Right in the midst, in that liminal zone between rose coloured glasses and dung coloured glasses is a pair of clear lenses that can help us stay the course.

Yes we can!  And yes we will.  It’s up to us, not anyone else, not Obama, not your mama, not Santa Claus.  Change begins first and foremost in your own heart.   This is one of the central principles of Spiritual Activism – one by one, drop by drop, we fill the bucket of change, with our sense of personal responsibility, of heart felt compassion, the kind that comes from a deep authentic impulse.   This means we don’t change because we feel we ought to, because our mother told us so, because it will impress someone (even ourselves), etc.  That kind of transformation is short lived and brittle.

The kind of change that I call “Fierce Light”  comes from getting in touch with who you really are.  This takes some work, cause a lot of what we think we are,  is coming from the outside, from culture, from our history, from our fears and desires.   When you strip all that away, who are you really?

At last weekends Zen retreat with Roshi Enkyo , we did an amazing excercise, which she borrowed from Joanna Macy (who is featured in Fierce Light).   You can try it for yourself if you like.

With a partner, sit facing each other, in a comfortable, sacred space.  One partner begins by asking the question, and the other answers, then you switch.

Take a moment to get centered and calm.   Look into each others eyes.  Sometimes the hardest part!!!  If it’s easier, you can wear a pirate patch and just look into one eye.  Just kidding.  Try to keep your gaze soft and unintrusive, and try to maintain eye contact throughout the excercise.

Become aware of your breathing.  

Partner one asks: “Who are you?”

Partner two answers with whatever pops up.  Try to be spontaneous, loose, not premeditated, clever or right.  Simply speak whatever comes out.

Partner one responds, “Thank you.  Who are you?”

This continues for five minutes.  Then take a few moments to reflect on all the possible answers that emerged, before switching roles.

It’s a powerful, simple practice, that flipped my lid.  I was everything from a slug to the planet to the person in front of me, to a brother, son, soul, cell, spiral nebulae and so many other things.  Amazing all of who I am. Some of them not so pretty. Some of them incredibly beautiful.  Some of them just plain silly.

I asked another Zen master I met in Boulder recently, Junpo Roshi, what he thinks spirituality is.  He said, “Embodied Compassion.”    To him, that is the core of it all.   What are we here on this planet to do?  Embody compassion.  Who are we?  Compassion on two legs.

There’s a different answer to what that might look like for everyone. But if we all were to step up to the plate, and start moving through the world from a heart centered place, grounded in real compassionate action, we would begin to see the fruits of this massive spirit of possibility which the world is feeling right now.  Right in the midst of this spirit of crisis, enormous flowers of change are blooming.   And that’s an exciting place to be – in the midst.

So who are you?  And how do you embody compassion?

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HOPE ON A TIGHTROPE

* Cornel West on the Election of Barack Obama: “I Hope He Is a Progressive Lincoln, I Aspire to Be the Frederick Douglass to Put Pressure on Him” *

Princeton University professor of religion and African American studies, Cornel West, speaks about the election of Barack Obama, his selection of Eric Holder to be Attorney General, the possible selection of Lawrence Summers to be Treasury Secretary and the role of the progressive left to push Obama. West is the author of the new book Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom.

Listen/Watch/Read
http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/19/cornel_west_on_the_election_of

 

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 OBAMA’S UNYIELDING HOPE

“Unyielding hope” – Obama is a meliorist (even if he, knowledgeable as he is, may have to look that word up).  The meliorist is the one who holds dear the conviction that we can, through our own efforts, make better lives for our selves.  The meliorist is neither the pessimist who sees gloom nor the optimist who sees brightness as automatically given.  Betterment is our doing, our energy, our achievement: so says the meliorist.  That Obama is a meliorist makes him a pragmatist and an American of the best variety our history has to offer.” – REQIEUM FOR CERTAINTY BLOG 

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Truth is a Pathless Land

“Because I am free, unconditioned, whole, not the part, not the relative, but the whole Truth that is eternal, I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free, not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect. Rather should they be free from all fears – from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself.” – Krishnamurti

 

light-hand1

 

I just spent the weekend in a Zen retreat, with Roshi Enkyo O’hara, of the Village Zendo in New York. My friends Michael Stone and Michelle McAdorey run a meditation center here in Toronto called The Centre of Gravity  and lucky for us, have been inviting her up once a year to lead a retreat.

I first came upon Roshi Enkyo through a remarkable series of synchronicities.  In 2000 I was in Hiroshima, shooting  Scared Sacred, my feature documentary based on my journey to the ground zero’s of the world.  Scared Sacred is inspired by the meditation practice  of Tonglen, the practice of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion.  

While I was filming the ceremonies on the anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, I met Daniel, a Zen monk from New York City.  In fact, turns out he was the first married ordained gay Zen monk in North America.  Daniel and I were both at Hiroshima for a similar reason. He was doing a series of poems and photographs about searching for light in places of darkness.

A year later, I found myself in New York City, in the wake of 9.11, at a reading of poets for peace.  That night I filmed  Ann Deaver Smith quoting Professor Cornell West on the difference between hope and optimism: “optimism is based on the notion that there’s enough evidence that allows us to think that things are going to be better. But hope – hope is saying,  it doesn’t look good at all – so we’re going to make a leap of faith to create new possibilities based on new visions that allow us to engage in heroic actions against the odds.  That’s hope!”  

That quote was in  the film for a while, but I finally it cut out.  I still miss it.  I compensate by reading the quote aloud at every Scared Sacred q & a.

The walls of the Cooper Union Building were decorated with poems by children about 9.11.  The little ones were there, buzzing with excitement about their poems being displayed.  I asked one of the parents if I could interview some of them, and she said I would have to talk to their teacher.  She pointed him out across the room.  It was Daniel.  

Later I talked to him about why I was in New York City – continuing my journey to the Ground Zero’s of the world in search of stories of hope.  He told me of his Zen teacher – Roshi Enkyo.  He described her as a remarkable invidual, someone who is both deeply spiritual, but also deeply engaged in the world, committed to activism, to creating positive change in a world of suffering.  She is  a member of  the Zen Peacemakers Order, and does a lot of work with AIDs activism.   But right now, in the midst of 9.11, her Zendo had become a place of refuge and peace activism.  It was only two blocks from the twin towers.   A few days later I was in front of Roshi Enkyo, interviewing her for Scared Sacred. Her words became the heart of that 9.11 scene in the film.

Over the years Roshi Enkyo has appeared in my life again and again, as a wonderful, brilliant, challenging and heart expanding spiritual teacher.  I did a life changing ten day retreat with her in New Mexico, at Upaya,  with Roshi Joan Halifax, I visit the Village Zendo whenever I can in NYC, and have sat two retreats with her here in Toronto at the centre of gravity.  This weekend I realized she is the most consistent teacher in my life.  

I am not a joiner.  This is something I have realized, and made peace with.  For the longest time, on my spiritual journey, I assumed that eventually I would settle into a single path and make that my home.  I can see the benefits – focus, discipline, the ability to really go the distance with support.  A solid container within which to work. Community. The vastness of a lineage.  

When I was in my twenties I was a student of Pir Vilayat,the wonderful Sufi saint of the Sufi Order International.  At one gathering Pir was doing initiations into the order, and I decided to join and receive my Sufi name.  When I came before Pir, he asked me what religion I was raised in.  I said the  Baha’i Faith.   He said, “oh, same thing as Sufism.  There’s no need for you to join.”  And that was that.  Although I was no longer a Baha’i, I was also not a Sufi. It was the last time I tried to join anything.

Today I am unapologetic – joining just is not for me- perhaps I’m  just too much of a spiritual rebel, too much of a trouble maker to rest in any one container.  I have this urge (ever growing) to continually blow up boxes.

But I’m not so arrogant to think I can do it all myself – I welcome guidance, I seek guidance, in all it’s forms. So it was a great moment of recognition for me this weekend, that I do have a teacher I can count on with the Roshi.  Even if I will never join her order, there is a source of wisdom in her, and the core teachings of Zen, that will always serve as a touchstone for me.

Not that those core teachings offer easy solace or any form of escape.  Zen asks us to stay right in the thick of things.  In the midst, the middle, right between form and emptiness.  Between the material world and the boundless ground of being.  Right where the friction is.  In a state of freshness, openess, a comfort with “Not-Knowing.”   Moment by moment, not knowing what’s next.  Spontaneous becoming, this is what faith is to me.   

Roshi focussed on the heart sutra this weekend, a deep deep well of wisdom – which demands us to let go of wisdom itself, to let go of the path, to let it all go.   No attachment. No grasping. Let go.

And in that letting go, a vast spaciousness occurs.  And in that space, life itself is renewed.  Fearlessly. The path forming below your feet with every step.

 

~                          ~                       ~

doorani

The original Scared Sacred was a interactive web site, done in 1995 at the Banff Centre for the Arts.  As part of the site, I did a peace called “Cyber Limbo”, about the pope’s elimination of limbo.   The piece culminated  in an excerpt from the Heart Sutra.   You read it by scrolling down…