Sunday, May 20, 2012

Forbidden Dhamma Poems

Recently I did a special ten-day course in Vipassana Meditation. During this course are a number of different rules and restrictions, such as no talking with the other students (which results in most of atmosphere there being very silent most of the time) and no reading, writing, music or leaving the course boundaries during the time of the course. There is also strict gender segregation, a strict daily time-table, fasting for about half of the day and many many hours of daily scheduled meditation. I had already previously sat three such Vipassana Meditation courses before, as well as did a bunch of volunteer work there previously as well, so I knew the drill.

Through fortuitous circumstances, a small pocket note-book of mine happened to not be confiscated at the beginning of the course, and I was left with a cheap bic pen in my possession as well. This lead to me eventually deciding to secretively, locked-away in my little room, write. That process was very powerful and meaningful for me, “therapeutic” even, despite it being totally against the rules. Here are some of the poems that I wrote in that little note-book.


The crazy
whirlwind of the mind
spins alone
whereas usually
it spins with others
other whirlwinds
and other storms altogether
but now it is alone
who knows where the dust
will settle?
No expert can predict that
no use trying
a million different factors
come together
to create this perfect storm


I must leave
this sacred prison
which is also my sanctuary
my hidden home
so many rules
so many restrictions
yet also the purest freedom
I have ever found
I hate it here
I love it here
Here here here
it will all be over
soon enough


and re-counting
the days
til I find out
how the rest of my days
Or begin
Or continue
but to what end?
We all know how it ends
in the end
but what do you do
til you get there?
Is the path
how to walk the path
that’s why I’m here


I love love love her
I love community too
and I love loving.
Oh, how lovely


That jack-boot
on the neck
I will die for you
I will live for you
but so what?
Billions and billions of souls
do not live for one man
or vice versa
it’s about gettin’ real
to the heart
and all that


The silence
beautiful silence
oh, how I love thee
if only I can see you
more often
in fact, bring you with me
have you meet other people
have you live in the city
at least for a while
have you become other people
is that asking too much?
Or have you become me
we become one
I am silence
or at least I want to be
real true silence
through and through


I don’t know a damn thing
about the guy next to me
here or anywhere
how cool is that?
We’re all connection
and oh-so similar
yet worlds apart
who is this guy?
Do I really want to know?
Curious minds
lead to curious places
it’s the story of my life
it’s why I’m here
Do I really want to know?


oh, we meet again!
I remember you before
Where will you take me?
Where will I go?
I have to leave here
I have to go somewhere


I was bored, tired, hungry, horny, agitated and my legs hurt.
But instead of attending to any of that
I was sitting still
on the floor
with my eyes closed
listening to a recording
of some guy
going on
And on
And on
in some language that I don’t understand
watching my breath
Totally counter-intuitive
but it works


Delusion, illusion, confusion, what’s really real in this world of just mind and matter? What does matter matter if we all die in the end? What does mind matter if nobody has you on their mind? Who are “they” anyway? Craving, clinging, craving, clinging, desperately, frantically, hurridly, imploringly – I NEED THIS!!!

I need what? What is there if there is only nothingness? Who am “I” if “I” does not exist? There is only only only – dhamma. The Law of Nature. Cause and effect, cause and effect, ad infinitum. Long long ago, far far away, some guy did something to somebody who then did something to somebody who then did something, and so on and on and on, which resulted in me then being here today. Why? What am I trying to get at? I have thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts – but who cares? It all goes around and around the merry-go-round, and I am back where I started from. Starts stops starts stops arising passing away arising passing away – what do I DO with all of this god-damned impermanence?! It will all just come and go and come and go like I did so many times now and you did too – it’s just that you had a different name and a different face at the time. And I did too. Oh, so so many times, so many different lives, so many different miseries, so many different sufferings – so much suffering. The times, places and people change, but the suffering is still there. And it is still with us. I have to get out! Out of this prison (of suffering)! I must not come back here! I must go! I MUST LEAVE!!!

But go where? Where would I go? Here is all there is. All that there is. And so many people are still here. So many people. So much suffering. So much fighting. So much lying. So much killing. So much stealing. So much hurting. So many people. Like it or not for better or worse – I am here with you. We are here together. In this world of worlds,worlds upon worlds, so different so diverse, we are still here together. We are here doing doing doing back and forth back and forth – and I am wondering – what is being passed around between us all? Is it wholesome or unwholesome? Good or bad? The bad is bad, the good is good, it is still there, no matter what you think. So what can you do? Do nothing. Just sit. Be with it for a while. Feel it from the inside. Sooner or later, just watching watching watching feeling feeling feeling, it begins to change. That is ok. Change is inevitable. Purity comes with time. Time time time. And attention. And acceptance. All will be revealed. As it is.


Artists’ colonies and artists’ camps. Writers’ colonies and writers’ camps. Buddhist colonies and Buddhist camps. Guerilla camps. Base camps. Terrorist camps. Summer camp.

Oh, that’s so camp.


Sometimes I am just
vomiting out nonsense
frantically flailing
clutching and clawing
trying to somehow
somewhere sometime
find the Truth
that’s a capital “T”
there, boy.
That’s important
you know.
What goes around
comes around
and here you have it
wrapped-up in perfectly
preserved doctrine
ready for you to discard
and discover
what’s inside


ought to be a good thing
it means that we are not
under the spell of illusions
but then why does it hurt
so much?
I think that it is because of
to ideas
of the way things are supposed
to be
the way things are supposed to
turn out
it all can be held
and dropped
at will
illusions only go so far


How many people
are in their own private
fantasy-land play-ground
right now?
How many people
are wading through their own
private hell?
I can never tell
the impression is
everyone is their own special
bodhisattva monk
except me
I am all mess
and subjectivity
I can never tell
self-contained units
within self-contained units
and yet we are all connected
and we will find out
when the walls come down

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Open your eyes, time to wake up, enough is enough is enough is enough

I read my friend Rachel’s recent blog entry about the ethics of care and healing trauma, and that reminded me of something, something that is very important to me. Caring is an essential component to my political world-view. I quite literally cannot envision a new anarchist world, that is, a world that is not structured by things like government, prisons, police, domination or hierarchy of any kind – I cannot see such a world existing or surviving without a deep sense of caring being the norm that people have for each-other.

And yet, I am struck by the profound absence of caring, again and again and again and again. This goes for radicals and “normal people”, anarchists and politicians alike. Caring, real caring, is seeming to be conspicuously absent in people’s lives, relationships, outlook on society and vision for the future. An example for this (aside from what Rachel has already mentioned in her blog entry) is the song by Chumbawamba that I link to at the top of this blog entry. It is a damn catchy song, I love it, and yet, the line that immediately follows the chorus that I am using as the title for this blog entry is: “give the fascist man a gun-shot”. To me, killing people, especially the act of labeling large swaths of people into certain categories, and then executing all of the people within that category – that all belies a profound lack of caring.

Within self-described anarchist circles there is a kind of fashionable chic going around now that has violence, or at least the rhetoric and images of violence, seem really awesome and desirable. I suppose that this kind of thing has existed within anarchist scenes for a long time now, which has partly fueled the image within popular society that “anarchists” are all violent maniacs. I recently read a quote by the radical socialist author William Morris who describes my sentiments exactly: “I cannot for the life of me see how the principles of anarchism, which propose the abolition of compulsion, can admit of promiscuous slaughter as a means of converting people”. For me, the glue that holds a society or a group of people together, without compulsion, coercion or a state structure present, is that the people involved really do care about each other to some degree.

In a more mainstream picture of the world, right now the U.S. government is regularly and increasingly killing scores of people in different countries across the world by using unmanned drone planes. A recent editorial I read describes these attacks as being “too clinical; they are like video games”. It is a totally impersonal way to kill people, and it is more and more becoming the norm, because it results in far less U.S. casualties. At least directly. A lot of the time when people try to hurt or kill other people out of revenge it is done so out of a motivation of “NOW you will understand the pain that I am feeling, because of the death of my loved ones. I will MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND this pain that I am feeling, by having you experience the death of YOUR loved ones.” I am guessing that when you don’t even see the people that are killing your loved ones, when you just see death machines flying around in the sky, the urge is then even stronger to have the people that are behind it understand the pain that is being caused.

Death by drone strikes seems to me to be a part of a much larger trend in society of a way of dealing with horrors and death – hide it away from direct viewing. Other forms of abuse and death do the same thing – the whole massive prison-industrial complex, old people dying in nursing homes, news stories of people being killed by suicide bombers all over the world getting little tiny blurbs being written about it in the newspapers. I recently went to a play performance by a touring radical theater group where the play that they gave enacted out some of the various different horrors of prison life in this country. The idea being that if you see real-life people right in front of your face suffering different pains and injustices then you would have it begin to sink in that this kind of thing actually is taking place in this world that you live in. It is no longer so damned abstract that you can’t really believe that it’s happening.

However, there is also another dynamic – that of people being exposed to all kinds of different scenes and images of pain, suffering and violence regularly, on an on-going basis, as a form of entertainment. This is very popular, very normal, very “cool” even. The idea is that seeing this kind of thing taking place, regularly, on a daily basis even, makes you numb to it. It takes the meaning and the real-ness out of the whole thing. It all then ceases to matter. There is no caring in this, even though you see that it is going on.

To counter all of this, I want caring – a regular on-going practice of real, conscious, intentional caring. There are different ways to go about this, to cultivate this, and my personal favorite is a Buddhist practice – “Mettā meditation”. The idea is that after meditating for a bit, you then shift your attention to your body sensations in the present moment (particularly around in your heart-area) and saying to yourself something along the lines of “May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be free from suffering”. There are other ways to do Mettā meditation too, and other non-Mettā ways to cultivate real caring exist as well. The important thing is to really encourage within yourself conscious sincere wanting the well-being of other people – even if you do not know these people or even if you actively dislike them.

What I see as being important, from both a spiritual perspective as well as a radical social change perspective, is that people really do see and acknowledge all of the different pains, hurtings, sufferings and injustices that are taking place all over the world. And, together with seeing & acknowledging that, then sincerely responding within one’s self, within one’s heart, with a real feeling of caring and well-wishing for those people (or non-people, as the case may be). Whatever actions may be taken then, to help to remedy the situation, comes forth out of both seeing & knowing what is going on, as well as really actually feeling & wanting the best for those involved.

I don’t consider myself to be a pacifist, so please do not write off (or write up) what I am saying as being some kind of hard-line pacifist ranting. What is important to me is really, actually, caring about people. Really wanting people to be well, happy and healthy. Coming from this, I see nonviolence as usually being the best way to go about things, simply because violence often hurts people, and the idea is to minimize hurt, not to make more of it. (Paul R. Fleischman wrote up a good little essay about this perspective that I recommend, entitled “The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism”)

Perhaps I am just a big sentimental softie here, but I just see wide-spread caring as being so important, so essential, a big part of what we all, or at least myself, am going for here. You can call me “unrealistic”, “naïve”, or a “dogmatic ideological” so-and-so. But I don’t care. Because as I see it, there is so much more, and so many more people out there, to care about.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Social Therapy

I recently visited the intentional community “Camphill Village Minnesota” and I spent about a week out there living & working with them. It was a wonderful experience for me and it reminded me a lot of what I love about Camphill communities and the valuable things that I have gotten from these experiences.

Foremost what I would like to talk about now is the method through which Camphill communities (focused on serving adults) are organized, which is a little-known philosophy/practice that is called “Social Therapy”. Based upon Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy”, Social Therapy is a way for adults with developmental disabilities to live, work and be supported in a village-like community environment. Although coming from this particular background, no specific religious, spiritual or philosophical affiliation is necessary in order to live and work there. The community is comprised of both residential homes and general community-use buildings, forests and fields, domestic and farm animals, crops and ornamental plants, and people.

An emphasis is placed on life resembling pre-industrial patterns as much as possible, with the work areas being agricultural and crafts-based instead of mechanical and computer-based. Food consumption is also moderated, and an emphasis is placed on having healthy organic foods, particularly foods that are grown on-site. Given that most of what one needs is located on the property itself, walking and bicycles are common modes of transportation.

The people who are supporting those with developmental disabilities, and who are ensuring that the community as a whole is functioning smoothly, are called “coworkers”. The coworkers are given the task of being very attentive to and aware of everything that is taking place with those who have developmental disabilities (who are called “villagers”). There is usually a one-to-one ratio between coworkers and villagers, and oftentimes there are more coworkers than villagers. The coworkers are encouraged to have as much unconditional love, care and warmth as possible towards the villagers, to see their positive potential and unrealized abilities and to provide the space for the villagers to grow and contribute at their own pace.

The primary social unit within these communities is that of the household. Each house resembles that of a family home, with each person having their own bed-room, and common space for the kitchen, dining room, living rooms, etc. Both coworkers and villagers live in the houses, and often-times actual biological families of the coworkers, pets and gardens surrounding the house live there as well. Each house has its own financial budget and has relative autonomy for determining its own systems for life inside the house. Over time and through continued shared experiences a distinct sense of “family” evolves among those who are living in each house.

Structure and rhythm is provided for the life in the community on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. This is done with an eye towards supporting the healthy psychic/physical lives of individuals, as well as to coordinate the activities of the various people within the community as a whole. Much attention is given to the different seasons of the year, both for the sake of coordinating the agricultural work that needs to be done, as well as for organizing public community festivals to celebrate the various seasonal holidays throughout the year.

A particular focus is given to the spiritual life of people, with space given for reflection and gratitude before each meal, quiet contemplation weekly on Saturday nights, as well as occasional Sunday services. There are also events to mark weddings, deaths and the spiritual significance of seasonal change. The act of cleaning is itself considered to be somewhat of a psycho-spiritual act, in the sense that it is viewed as being an outward expression of and correlating force for one’s internal sense of orderliness and openness to spiritual experience.

While visiting Camphill Village Minnesota I at one point got to see some of the big farmlands that are nearby the intentional community, surrounding it. These are massive mono-crop tracts of land. The coworker showing this to me then told me some about biodynamic and organic methods of agriculture, including a bit about how the land could be more productive in bearing crops when it is smaller pieces of land that are given more care and attention. This strikes me as being a general principle for effective healing in general, for both people and land: have smaller units with more direct care and attention given to everyone and everything there. The trend in mainstream society is to have massive institutions with the crops being protected and kept fertile by pesticides and chemical fertilizers and the people kept preoccupied by electronic devices and pacified by medications. Social Therapy seems to offer an alternative out of this path.

This is my over-all abbreviated summary of Social Therapy and life in Camphill communities. It is only upon leaving Camphill for a while and experiencing life some more in “normal” mainstream society that I have come to see how unique this form of social organization is. I have also come to appreciate the healthfulness of such systems, particularly in regards to supporting those who have developmental disabilities.

Now that I am living in a big city, and I walk around and see all these people on the streets who are homeless or who have some kind of mental illness. I also think about all of the people out there who suffer from some kind of addiction, all of the “at-risk youth” and “juvenile delinquents”, people stuck in cycles of abuse, and people whose lives get out of control and who wind up in prison. I think to myself: “what about these people? Are they to be left on their own, continuing down whatever hellish path they are on?” There has to be something better than the various cold heartless institutions that governments and corporations have relegated for these people.

My dream is to have the Camphill idea and practice of Social Therapy become something that is broader in scope and more widely implemented in society. Sometimes I have heard Camphill described as focusing on supporting “people in need of special care”, and not just people who have developmental disabilities. I like this phrasing, because to me this opens the door to applying the Camphill model to all of these different kinds of people that I mentioned previously.

Throughout my life experiences I have experienced other non-Camphill social environments that I would also call “social therapy” as well. In particular I am thinking about multi-day Nonviolent Communication residential intensives and ten-day Vipassana Meditation courses. With both of these cases, special care is put into preparing and maintaining a very therapeutic, healing and overall healthy environment for people to be in. A lot of good stuff comes out of these places. The problem is that it is all very temporary. People come, get the benefits, and then leave. While there is often talk among some folks there about establishing on-going intentional communities that are like that, usually this talk does not turn into action. And often the model that is thought about is that of creating a retreat center for workshops and seminars that the community members live at and maintain.

The retreat center model does not appeal to me, because in my eyes this assumes a certain kind of class back-ground for everyone involved. For the “people in need of special care” that I mentioned above, they would not be able to afford or get to a retreat center to reside there indefinitely. That kind of situation would only work for those who come from an upper or middle class background.

This all then brings to mind another kind of intentional community model – the Catholic Workers. These people do actively reach out to and serve the homeless, the addicted, the abused, and those with problems with the law. The Catholic Workers, however, do not have a particular therapeutic model in mind, and the level of attention to detail in creating a healing environment is generally not present there like it is in Camphill places.

So my ideal is to have a mix of both – to expand the means and methods of getting Social Therapy out into the world. And, similar to the Catholic Workers, to see this work as being integral to radical social change work itself. Reconstructing society, in other words, would be going hand-in-hand with personal and inter-personal healing. And this would be for all people regardless of ability or class back-ground.

Yesterday while walking around Minneapolis I came upon a big beautiful old mansion house that is for sale. I looked at it and visualized what it would be like to have that be a big family-style Camphill house, in conjunction with a vacant lot that could be used for urban agriculture. A space could be created here for intentionally supporting people in need of special care and creating a healing social environment for them and everyone involved. And I imagined that same place as also having space available for radical activist projects, an open anarchist social center. The same space, integrated. Social therapy supporting social change supporting social revolution. This is a vision of what Social Therapy could be.