Monday, May 21, 2012

Versions of Kabir

     When Charles showed me the poems I was shocked by the erotic energy, and had to look again at some of my attitudes and ideas about love, sex and language. So, when I looked again at Tagore and Bly, I had to wonder what Kabir would say to each of them about their renderings:

Here's Tagore:
     Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves,
           and within it is the Creator:
     Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the
           unnumbered stars.
     The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
     And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and
           the spring wells up.
     Kabir says: "Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved
           Lord is within."

And now Robert Bly:
     Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains,
         and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
     All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
     The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
     And the music from the strings no one touches, and the source
         of all water.
     If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
     Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

     Both versions have given me a lot of pleasure. I appreciate Tagore's genteel language with its implicit affection for the western canon. He is presenting a vernacular Indian poet of the masses to an audience of European upper class intellectuals and theologians. He probably felt constrained to use language that would not discomfort his readers.
     Robert Bly's approach fifty years later has the advantage of being able to use contemporary vernacular. Bly's readers in the 60's and 70's were acquainted with non-European
arts and  philosophies and not likely to be put off by language less exalted than Edwardian English. Bly argues that Kabir and Mirabai used everyday language, common situations and familiar examples to instruct their listeners and convey the message. The message hasn't changed, Bly reminds us, but the metaphors and idioms may seem obscure to us, 500 years later. Still, he says he strives for accuracy. Kabir's lyrics were learned by heart and later written down in several languages. Tagore worked with Bengali translations, and Bly reworked Tagore's work.
     So, accounting for the differences in language and style, reflecting a developing sophistication among western readers, I find a satisfying sense of harmony and agreement in the content of the two versions. I think Kabir's essential teaching survives, despite some questions I have in understanding particular images Bly and Tagore chose to employ.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part of my Home Health CareTeam

This is Felicity, aka "Shorty"


Melissa, or Misa

 Nutmeg, aka "Nutty" or Spice Girl

Post-Op Reflections

I remember being rolled into the O.R. on the gurney, looking around, hearing voices around me, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the resident, the cool air ….

                   Dark. Depthless darkness. Deep within the darkness a spark,
the tip of a cone of light, turning, replicating gyres emanating, expanding, blossoming petals of fire and the sound of wind rising within the silence of the darkness….

And then I came to in a bed in a room with different people around who I didn’t recognize… dozed off and came to again, and this time I recognized Karen, bright eyes and smile. I think I smiled back and nodded off, having figured out I wasn’t dead, just very tired. And very sore.

I was up and walking the day after the open-heart procedure. The doctors were pleased with their work and my recovery went very well. During the four days I spent in the hospital, I had wonderful care from the nursing staff, some remembering me from last year’s stay in the West Tower.  Karen came daily without fail and on Sunday I had a sweet visit from Bob & Mercedes. The food service, of which I have complained so noisily on previous occasions, has actually gotten worse.

When not sleeping or being attended to, I was able to enjoy a few of the other perks of this age of miracles:  listening to an orchestra and chorus perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and Lata Mangeshkar singing bhajans (Chala Vahi Des). On my portable CD player, recordings of Maharaji’s satsangs put me blissfully to sleep. The truly healing thing was Knowledge, practicing, accepting each breath, accepting the pain.


As I look at our recent history, the narrow slice of the last 150 years, several features seem apparent to me. And, looking at micro trends within this recent period tends to validate what I think I see. Looking at our modern age within the much larger continuum of human development over the past million years, I'm even more persuaded that we are on the cusp of significant social and global transformations.

I really don't think that the socio-political and socio-economic models that have been in play for the last couple hundred years will be sustainable for much longer. The environmental changes that are coming will likely be much more devastating than current models predict simply because the entrenched systems of resource development and allocation are not responding to the crises quickly enough. We're also learning that collapse tends to accelerate and cascade in unpredictable ways. The social  and political changes that are being demanded by "democracy movements" will of course be resisted by those who now have power. It's hard to see how global conflicts over water rights and human rights can be avoided. Of course, no one knows what the future will be, but there's no way things can continue as they are going for much longer. And that's just the "short term view."

Taking the long view, I tend to agree with critics and analysts who argue that we have done so much deep harm to our natural biological human inheritance that we, as a species, have become a significant destructive factor for all life forms that share our ecosystems. In nature, when a species endangers the ecosystem, you know what happens: the system collapses and the destructive species dies back or disappears. Homo sapiens is obviously a mortal danger to the planet’s biosphere. And, we have been watching ecosystems collapsing regularly now for fifty years, species going extinct, new unexpected life forms appearing (viruses, for example) and changes in the very structures of creatures that have been stable in the context of evolution for tens of millions of years.

I am not a doom & gloom guy. My personal experience, my faith, my understanding of "how things work"… persuade me that this is perhaps a unique point in human/global/cosmic evolution. If you believe, as I do, that the Universe is essentially conscious and benevolent (not indifferent, nor hostile) and that the Creation is a kind of learning environment for many different kinds of sentient beings, then we (as one species among many) are getting ready for a kind of Final Exam. I also believe that the key thing we have to understand for this graduation is not what we have learned (old models, old explanations, old ideologies, etc), but how we learn. We're so stuck in the past. We have to get into the present.

Part of the difficulty is that we have devised these educational systems that just don't work. Our schools tend to crush creativity, imagination and cooperation just when those are three of the human traits we need most! Do you know where the most talented people have gone over the past three or four generations? Into advertising!! The way children are taught today is absolutely upside-down and backward! Look, it is nature's gift to homo sapiens that we have this incredibly sophisticated nervous system, capable of …. you know! You've got one inside your skull, between your ears, behind your eyes! Is there anything more fun than solving a puzzle, figuring something out, learning something new? Our survival depends on our ability to learn and adapt, which we do by playing, experimenting with our environment. So, if you accept this coinage, homo sapiens ludens (which I think is obvious), it is easy to understand and explain the almost universal dislike children have for school.

But I digress.

In the previous essay, I felt called to speak to prayer. In this, I feel called to say something of hope, called by a friend’s recent beautiful meditation on the subject. As she clearly says, there are elements of promise and expectation that something desired will be fulfilled. It’s apparent to me as well how prayer and hope reflect each other across the surface of the human heart.

In the months before this surgical procedure I often considered “my odds,” risk factors, alternatives, et al. Several sharp hooks would snag my attention from time to time, particularly when I was in the ICU, pulling me into some scary, frightened places. The energy that got me off the hook, I’d have to call ‘hope’ in the sense here, that it’s my expectation that my desire to live will be fulfilled. I realize I will die, but before I do, I will have n crises over the course of my lifetime, and will survive n-1 times. Those are really good numbers to begin with, I’d say.

More meaningful than my glib manipulation of symbols is the feeling growing within me that this really is a special moment in our evolution. The world we live in today is so different from the environment our species was born into. As a species we have changed over the course of a couple million years. This interplay has generated an unprecedented degree of disequilibrium and potential for transformation. Admittedly, my assertions are general, vague and arguable. Correct me, please, where I’m missing something. Instruct me where I’m getting it wrong.

The epiphyllum blooming on the deck this week are simply spectacular. The Occupy movement is resurgent. We are six months from the Presidential election and seven months from the end of the Mayan calendar. Today I feel the promise of Spring, the possibility every day for something new and wonderful.  Maharaji is coming to LA in July, and I get to spend another day with Karen. I hope to be here a while longer, to be part of the play which I hope to be glorious!

Let me quote Arundhati Roy’s closing phrases from her 2002 Lannan Foundation lecture:

Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.
Eagle Rock
14 May 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pre-Operative Meditation

       In a few days, on May 2, for a few hours, I will be going under the bright lights of an operating theatre in the hospital near where I live. Naturally, I’m scared. Fortunately, I have the best possible team of surgeons and healers, well-prepared to replace a faulty valve in this sixty-five year-old heart. I’m kind of amazed at the number of people we know who’ve had this or another heart surgery. So, it’s comforting to see that our survival and recovery statistics are quite high. But, it’s also frightening that we are so many.
      This week I have received many kind wishes and promises that prayers will be offered for me. I thank everyone for prayers, good will and positive energy. I would like to ask that you also offer a word of prayer and blessing for the pig whose life is sacrificed for my sake. I hope he or she had a good life and was spared the suffering of a slaughterhouse. Unless you’ve spent some time with pigs, you probably don’t realize how intelligent and gentle they are. And, pigs have a long history as the sacred property of the Goddess and her priestesses. The pig is the animal associated with Virgo, my birth sign, as it happens.
      I am keenly aware that this procedure is extreme. And I recognize without it, a major stroke or heart attack is likely, soon. As with much in medical science, there’s a critical threshold number for cardiac efficiency, measured as the “ejection fraction.” My heart has crossed into the danger zone. Admittedly, cigarettes have likely hastened the process, but let’s hold addiction for another time.   
     What I want to say has to do with praying, something I’ve been intrigued with ever since I realized that my Christian classmates prayed to Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, but I prayed to God because I was Jewish. This was confusing because we seemed to pray for the same things, but in different ways. I prayed for my Grandmother when she was sick. I prayed for good grades. I prayed for victory in the next game. Some prayers were answered, from time to time. Basically, it seemed to me, prayers were like magic spells you said to make your wishes come true. Although I prayed for the war in Vietnam to end and that my draft number might be very high, neither came to pass. At that point, I stopped to take a look at “Prayer” as a research topic. I think Jim Fadiman was a visiting faculty at Irvine, and he agreed to sign off on my “Independent Study.” Maybe it was Joe Hart….
    Anyway, over the next four years I read hundreds of prayers, ancient and contemporary, learned various chants and forms of incantation. I devoured Castaneda, Traherne, Yogananda, Black Elk, Ram Dass, The Imitation, St Francis, St Julian, The Prophet, Kabir, Rumi, The Way of the Pilgrim… I prayed and fasted and went into the mountains and the desert. In the end, of course, I gave up. I surrendered. I was forced to accept that I could go no further on this path without a guide. My ultimate prayer: Help!
     Some weeks later, I found myself in Tucson listening to some clean-cut guys talking about their 13 year-old Perfect Master, Guru Maharaj Ji, and the Knowledge they had received. The experience they described seemed impossible, but I felt I had to check it out. I posed the question to myself, “If I were living in Palestine 2000 years ago, fighting the imperialist Roman occupation, and Jesus happened to pass through town, would I have recognized him? And how would I know Who he was?”
     It seemed remote, but I went ahead and asked to receive Knowledge. The experience was more beautiful, more extraordinary than words could ever describe. That happened forty years ago, May 2, 1972. Guru Maharaj ji and Knowledge continue to be the heart, core, anchor, compass, foundation of this existence for me. He is my Teacher. He has shown me what reality is. He has shown me what I truly am. This is the perfect knowledge of the self.
     But, don’t take my word. See for yourself.
     I understand that this life is a gift. Each breath is a blessing. Each day I am here is truly miraculous. When I pray to my Lord, all I can say is, “Thank You. Thank You, Lord, for everything, for this life, these friends and family, these loved ones, these treasured days on Earth with you.”
Eagle Rock
26 April 2012 

Monday, January 16, 2012

OccupyLA 7

     A couple weeks ago I went downtown to the Superior Court on Temple for my turn on jury service. After clearing security, I joined the throng in the lobby waiting for the elevators to the eleventh floor. The first three filled and I was herded into the fourth box, one that bounced between the basement and the lobby half-a-dozen times without opening for a good five minutes. One woman, claustrophobically kept saying, “Can’t you open the doors? I want to get out.” Finally, the doors opened in the sub- basement and we got out. The floor was littered with weight-lifting stuff. We stepped over barbells and headed for the stairs, resigned to a dozen or more flights. At four, I quit and went through a door into a hall that brought me to another bank of elevators. I got off at twelve and walked downstairs to the Jury Assembly Room. The lively orientation went on for more than two hours, and two panels were called. At noon a cheer went up when we were told there would be no more panels called, so we could all go home.
    I walked down to City Hall to see what there was to see a month after the eviction of the Occupation. I took a few pictures with my cell phone to post here. The cyclone fence and the cement bunkers effectively keep everyone out of the park and off the grounds around the building.

The place looked quite desolate, more than empty. An official from the department of parks estimates restoring the area will cost the city about $400,000. The LA Times reported that the cost to the city of removing the Occupation was more than $1,000,000, mostly over-time for police and other city services. (The article mentions that clean-up after the Lakers won the championship was more expensive.)

    That phase of the struggle is clearly no longer viable on this site without the application of force, sound strategic reasons and very large numbers. Pacifica (KPFK) reports daily on the Occupy Movement and several websites carry real-time transmissions and updates from around the country. Despite some harsh weather and police intimidation, #OWS actions have continued, but for the most part, the movement appears to have largely dispersed into office buildings, back onto campus and out into the community. General Assemblies on the steps of City Hall continue to bring hundreds together, and GAs are happening in dozens of towns. Activists from the Occupation seem to be quite mobile, marching with longshore union members to close ports up and down the coast one day, assembling in several residential neighbor- hoods to support people resisting foreclosure a couple days later.
    To my mind, the GA remains the most significant thing to appear thus far, though my attendance has been as a remote observer and reader. The salient fact is that citizens are assembling to talk about their lives, their community, their government. People are gathering in the park, in the plaza, in the agora to share their dissatisfaction about what is happening. One #OWS activist admonished people, “You don’t start a General Assembly because it’s fashionable right now. You do it because you need to talk about what’s important to you and together, figure out what you can do.” The public forum has been revitalized, amplified by the social networks available in cyberspace.

     Although there are regular meetings of the GA, marches and solidarity actions every week, it’s difficult for me to participate. There is more information on the internet than I can process and half a dozen daily emails from various movement groups. Despite being on the periphery, I hope to offer useful observations and suggestions here, as well as refer readers to material I find valuable. A recent communique from reproduced an essay in Margaret Flowers’ blog, I recommend it to all of us who are thinking about the next stages of the struggle as opposition stiffens and repression increases. The author (Ashley Sanders?) presents a summary of points from Lawrence Goodwyn’s study, The Populist Moment, a book I intend to borrow from the library, maybe buy.
    One more referral/reminder. Yesterday during a listening skills warm-up exercise with my class, we had a text describing the relative sizes of Jupiter and Earth and the velocity of our planet as it orbits the sun. The image of “Spaceship Earth” came to mind. Popularized on the cover of The Whole Earth Catalog, it has become part of our contemporary iconography, and one of the books in the Catalog has become a classic among futurists: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. Perhaps it’s a good time to have another look at Bucky’s work.
    A substantial archive of Fuller’s life and work exists, including photos, film and audio recordings, a smattering of which can be found on YouTube. In this 1974 television interview,  Bucky makes an elegant digression early in the conversation. He wants to make a distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘brain.’ The brain receives data from the senses which it turns into packets of information that are stored in its neural network. The mind is the special evolutionary endowment, according to Fuller, that makes humans different from every other species. The mind’s special feature is the ability to find patterns among the information packets stored in the brain, and it is this skill at patterning that gives us  our evolutionary advantage. By understanding patterns, we are able to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future.

Parker Center, across the street from the park.
    For Fuller, the challenge eventually took the form of “anticipatory design,” based on the recognition that the environments we create and inhabit can be designed  to better anticipate and satisfy human needs, as well as modify human behavior in beneficial ways. Most of the engineering is beyond me, and some of his philosophical tenets are incomprehensible to me, but that’s okay. I’m still learning from Bucky.

Eagle Rock
December 2011 - January 2012