Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Video: Senators, not a time for congratulations

I had C-Span on so I could watch the progress on this weird crisis, and Senator Collins took the Senate floor and gave a speech congratulating some of her colleagues, and herself as well, for negotiating a resolution that the 11th or 11:30th hour before a default.  And then other senators started getting up to do the same thing.  "This," I thought, "makes very weird optics."  With popular opinion of Congress this low, capitalism in a profound crisis, and our political parties unable to govern, the ability to belatedly fulfill the basic function of government -- and that deal isn't even done yet -- does not seem like a seemly moment for congratulations.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Put your signs down

Amazing, what you can find on the interwebs.

Taking a break from worky things today, I was surfing the web and did a search for anti-war speeches in recent times.  A reference to a peculiar speech by someone with a very unusual (and very familiar) name came up, and one or two clicks later I was confounded to be watching myself -- ten years ago -- on C-Span.

Oh yeah.  That day.

April 13, 2003.  One month after our invasion of Iraq had begun, I was part of a coalition that organized several large anti-war rallies, including this one that closed Hollywood Boulevard and filled it with thousands of people.

Since you can't embed clips from C-Span, I'll share a link below.  But first, let me tell the story of this speech.

The attacks of September 11 took place about three weeks after I arrived in Los Angeles to be abbot of Dharma Zen Center.  In response to attacks on muslims and sikhs and anyone with brown skin, several faith leaders banded together to create safe spaces and promote understanding and dialogue among religions and this turned into Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.  Reverend Kusala of the International Buddhist Meditation Center involved me along with other Buddhist representatives, although he did not remain active with the group.  As the United States initiated war with Afghanistan and began to threaten Iraq in reaction to September 11, ICUJP began addressing itself to government, criticizing militarism and violence from a multi-faith perspective 

One of the issues I found myself addressing repeatedly while working with ICUJP was activist burnout and anger.  It was something I had seen in the early 1990s when I was active in New York City, and was seeing it again now.  (And I would see it all over again with Occupy Las Cruces.)   I wanted to offer some Buddhist teachings and technique about utilizing the energy behind anger, without being consumed by it.  I set up non-denominational meditation workshops, and incorporated meditation into some of our large rallies.  Someone from the Shambhala Center partnered with me to give meditation instruction to 900 people on Santa Monica Beach before an anti-war rally there.

It was not a message everyone welcomed.  A lot of people wanted to focus on changing the world outside of themselves, and felt that they and their anger and their opinions were just fine, thank you -- even when they got frustrated, began feuding with one another, and many gave up on activism altogether because of their own unexamined suffering.

Leading up to this rally on April 13, the coalition of anti-war groups was beginning to fray.  There was friction with A.N.S.W.E.R.'s leadership and other coalition members.  ICUJP's gentler, more contemplative message clashed with some of the more militant voices.  There was also a generational gap going on that left some of the older and more experienced organizers shaking their heads.  Let's just say the speakers at this rally were a very diverse group.

One of the few ICUJP leaders who really cared for me and my concern for the spiritual health of peace activists was George Regas of the All Saints Church in Pasadena.  He asked me to speak at this rally and from what I understand he negotiated with the organizers to give me a slot.

It is our practice in the Kwan Um School of Zen not to script dharma talks or do much preparation for them.  We like extemporaneous talks.  I treated this like a dharma talk and didn't prepare.  And then I was in front of several thousand people with no speech prepared.  For a moment, I felt like I was in really big trouble.  But I just did what you do for a dharma talk: take a breath, look at people's faces, and just tell the truth as best you can.

Over the next few minutes, I got everybody to put their signs down for a minute and join me in silent meditation, and then I talked about anger and rage, how frustrating our predicament was in the face of the Iraq war, and urged them to practice some silent deep breathing every day so they could keep going and never give up -- and let the process transform them.

Some people loved it.  Some people hated it.  George Regas, for his part, hugged me and said, "That IS the point!" It was a rare moment when zen practice and concern for politics and the affairs of the world came together in a clear and explicit way.  My zen friends, to this day, including some of my closest dharma siblings and teachers, feel I am lost in the worldly weeds, and making karma by concerning myself with political matters; and likewise many of my political friends feel that spiritual contemplation is at best a distraction, and at worst a co-optation of political struggle.

And hey, I got to respond to both those camps.  On national television, no less.

This emptiness is not inaction.  This emptiness is attention and love and compassion that lives inside each and every one of us...
Yeah, 30-year old self, that's not too bad.  I only regret two things as I watch this speech today.  One, I sound like Kermit the Frog.  Two, I forgot to attribute my quotation of Maha Ghosananda.  He's the one who said those words about a peaceful heart leading to a peaceful world.  Blathering on, I forgot to say his name.  Oh well.  Ten years too late.

Here is the speech, if you want to watch.  Click here

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Richard Wolff's lecture for October 2013

Today we would like to share Richard Wolff's most recent monthly lecture at the Brecht Forum in New York City (they recently moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn).

Understandably, a long lecture on economics and current affairs might not sound like an evening's entertainment.  However, as we have submitted previously, Richard Wolff is a highly entertaining lecturer and offers a far-left perspective that is consistently missing in major media.  He puts our current crisis of shutdown and imminent default into an historical perspective as well as recent developments in Europe.

Here it is.  Please have a listen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Playing some Texans

For the last several weeks, my time has been dominated by my theatre practice, with productions of two plays in three cities.  And the whole phase had a distinctly Texas theme.

The first project was Greater Tuna, a very popular play by three guys inspired by their own Texas upbringing.  There were some previous posts on this blog about our production at the No Strings Theatre Company in Las Cruces with photos and video and stuff -- see here, here, and here.  The show calls on two actors to play 20 characters, and I undertook this challenge along with Las Cruces actor David Reyes. 

After a very successful run in Las Cruces, we brought the show to Deming's outdoor theatre at Voiers Park.  (See here.)  Turnout was not overwhelming, but the folks who came out enjoyed the show very much.  An image from our performance in Deming is above, captured by photographer Dan Gauss.

No decision has been made yet about whether we'll put up the play's sequel, A Tuna Christmas, next year.  It has been requested by numerous NSTC patrons, and I get the feeling David wants to do it.  Personally, I've never seen the play and I haven't read the script yet. 

While we were still performing in Las Cruces and moving the production to Deming, I went into rehearsal with Frontera Rep, a new theatre company based in El Paso.  Frontera opened its season, and El Paso's Tom Lea month, with an original play by Camilla Carr about the artist, Tom Lea, entitled Tom Lea: Grace Note In a Hard World.  Here is an article about the project from the El Paso Times (click here) and there are lots of photographs of the cast in costume here at The Art Avenue.

I played Lea's father, the elder Tom Lea, who was mayor of El Paso at the time of the Mexican Revolution.  In El Paso, the elder Mr. Lea is very much a larger-than-life figure, renowned for toughness.  To believe the local lore, this guy made Clint Eastwood look like a hamster.  I did my best with that assignment. 

With both these shows closed, the Texas plays are done for now, and I begin a long rehearsal process on a personal project.  I have been granted the rights to be the first person to perform Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare's play, An Iliad, a piece for one actor and (optionally) one musician.  They have written a wonderful theatrical script based on Homer's epic, and I'll start performing it in Las Cruces in February with hopes of performing it other locations.