Avoid Stealing. But How?

Traditionally, the dharma outlines 5 precepts for laypeople to follow.  They’re not commandments so much as helpful signposts to happiness and mental purity.  The idea being that performing any of these actions requires generating mental negativities in one’s own mind, in addition to harming others.  It’s an interesting non-dualistic take on morality, and in general I find the precepts useful to keep in mind.  They are:

1.  Avoid killing.

2. Avoid stealing.

3. Avoid speaking lies.

4. Avoid using sexuality in ways that harm others.

5. Avoid abusing intoxicants (mainly because it diminishes our ability to observe the other four.)

Ok, so far so good, the Buddhists have whittled it down from 10 to 5, or something.  But I’ve got a few questions about number 2: the whole thieving thing.

See, it’s pretty obvious how to avoid the vulgar kinds of stealing: bank robbery, purse-snatching, embezzlement, etc.

But what do we do when we live on stolen land?  In a country where, as Thea Lim of Racialicious points out, “if you live on native land, you benefit from native genocide”?  And where “many First Nations people in Canada, [where Thea’s from], live under third world conditions in a first world country“?

“Surely,” she observes, “there is a political option to remedy this beyond shameful situation, between ignoring it and moving back to England.”

Are we discussing and exploring those options in dharma communities?

And furthermore, how do we relate to stealing when we live in an economic system that operates on the basis of unpaid labor?  (Which is the origin of profit under capitalism.)  Does that count as stealing?  Are we then morally obligated to oppose it?  Justified in occupying university buildings and factories? How do we see our dharma practice reflected in these systems and struggles?

These are my questions.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Now off to Wisdom 2.0!

Later, y’all.

Help One Of My Blogging Idols to Afford A Computer!

Hey friends!  I’m really excited about this dana (generosity) drive for one of my oldest blogging inspirations, brownfemipower of Flip Flopping Joy.  Her latest computer has died on her, and after decades (in blog-years) of providing brilliant, soulful commentary in a dope synthesis of journal/journalistic blogging on radical mamis, motherhood, U.S. immigration, wisdom, resistance, healing, and community, it’s high time she got a decent machine worthy of her gifts.  The target amount to secure a MacBook Pro: $2000.

The reason I’m fundraising for so big of an amount is because I have been working on second hand/hand me down computers for about six years now–the entirety of my time blogging. And that means that I’ve gone through a ton of computers. I’ve had one catch on fire, one of them the cat broke, another one the little mouse nob in the middle of the keyboard doesn’t work anymore (so I have no mouse), and of course, this last one–the keyboard is broken.

And as if the opportunity for awesome radical POC artist solidarity and sharing weren’t enough, BFP is giving away gifts corresponding to the amount donated.  Cards!  Zines!  Sur-prizes!  Fabulous.

She’s already halfway there.  Go pitch in!

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

File Under: Useful Books You’re Kind Of Embarrassed To Be Reading

Trust me, I never thought I’d pick up any sort of self-help book.  Even when I worked at Harvard Book Store and shelved the Personal Growth section, I don’t think I so much as thumbed through a single volume.  But, as it turns out, some self-help books can teach us how to, like, help ourselves.  It’s kinda nifty.

Specifically, this weekend I got my hands on a library copy of Soren Gordhamer’s little handbook, Wisdom 2.0, and it is actually, materially improving my life.  Reminding me of many of the insights I came to independently last year about healthy Internet usage, and adding lots of practical tools to my existing repertoire.  The snappy magazine tone isn’t my favorite — partly because it tends to veer into upper-class magazine generalizations, where the only external causes for stress are cranky co-workers and long lines at Starbucks, rather than, you know, institutional racism.  For the most part, though, the content is solid.  This piece, particularly, proved instantly helpful:

An old Zen saying reads:

When sitting, just sit.
When standing, just stand.
Above all, don’t wobble.

In our age, we might change this to:

When e-mailing, just email.
When talking on your cell, just talk on your cell.
Above all, don’t talk while emailing.

For most of us, the talking, working, or surfing online are not what is stressful; it’s the time we spend wobbling.  It’s the multitasking and unconsciously switching back and forth between modes of communication…This can be exhausting and stressful when such transitions are done unconsciously and habitually.  We can, however, learn to consciously change channels so instead of draining our energy by continuously multitasking, we move with ease from one mode to another. (27)

This means a few things for me.  One, I’m re-adopting a practice I developed last summer, in Europe, of leaving open only one window on my laptop at a time.  Just one at a time.  Either my Internet browser, or my word processor, or iPhoto, or Skype, etc.  This clears up a shocking amount of head space and lets me concentrate on one task at a time.  Surprisingly, I find that this elevates not only focus, but also enthusiasm.  I feel lighter and more at ease when I have a single task before me.  I can even see my lovely green desktop photo behind my one window, instead of a cluttered layer of more programs.

If someone calls my cell phone, I pause and determine whether my time is better spent answering right now, or staying with my computer project and hitting them back later.  If someone approaches me in person, or the kettle whistles, I take a moment to deliberately shift all of my attention to the real-time project.  And far from slowing me down, this approach actually cuts down enormously on wasted time, and helps me spend my energies in a more pleasurable way.

That’s another thing: this book is reminding me that waiting can be pleasurable! Waiting for photos to upload, waiting for a page to refresh, waiting for a wireless connection to come through…simply by reworking my own mind, I experience them as moments of rest and alert relaxation, not impatience and weird greedy hypnosis.  (Staring at the loading bar, anyone?)

Of course, there may be issues, like a colleague’s continual tardiness to meetings, which need to be addressed.  However, if we do not blame the person for our discomfort, if we do not bring our dissatisfaction with our inner life into the issue, then we can more skillfully address the problem.  We see that the situation provides an opportunity for learning, and we can address it without the extra frustration.

This does not mean that we can use this as an excuse for our own actions.  The next time we are criticized by our manager for showing up late to a meeting, it is probably not best to reply, “Well, if you weren’t so uncomfortable with your inner life, this would not be a problem.  Deal with yourself.”

It was during such a bright, cheerful pause in a French café last summer, while 20 photos took 10 minutes or so to upload, that the germ for this post (one of my favorites, I think) arose.

Anyhow, this little manual is certainly shaping up to be a pleasant surprise.  (I’m about 2/3rds through.)  And speaking of mildly embarrassing interests, it has even diminished my skepticism enough to warrant one more student registration for the Wisdom 2.0 Summit in Mountain View, coming up this very weekend.  (Crazy — Ari Pliskin of Zen Peacemakers had mentioned it to me a while back, and I knew he would be in town for it, but none of that occurred to me last week when I found the book at the library and picked it up.  Too odd a coincidence not to explore, even though it means dropping the bulk of my dog-sitting earnings on the conference fee.)

May your back and neck, forearms, eyes and mind be well this week, my dears, however much time you log in front of a screen.

Back By Popular/My Demand

I’ve made this soup, oh, a kazillion times or so.  And yesterday I made it again.  Will never get sick of it.  Kale and cauliflower (two all-time favorite foods) plus carrots, chickpeas, sautéed onions, and a little bulgur for texture and bulk — all swimming in a full-bodied broth deepened with olive oil, spiked with habanero peppers, and brightened with a surprising secret ingredient: orange juice.

My “recipe” (more like “ritual” at this point) riffs off of Heidi Swanson’s lovely Chickpea Hotpot.  I’ve adapted it to my tastes and lifestyle, which means the following.

Lifestyle: I like spicy things.  A lot.  One time I said as much in a food writing workshop, and the professor asked me ‘What I think that’s about.’  I don’t really have an answer.  In go the habaneros.

Tastes: I prefer to use produce by the bunch or half-bunch, rather than by the cup or whatever.  It’s not some sort of naturalist statement (refusing to divide a God-given head of cauliflower into civilized units), but pretty much a matter of convenience.  So in the end, my soup winds up chock-full of imprecisely quantified produce, good to get me through half a week at least.

One key aspect of this soup is the broth.  If the broth you use doesn’t taste good, the soup won’t taste good — so find one you fancy.  Personally, I’m a die-hard fan of Rapunzel vegan bouillon cubes with herbs and salt.  The only way to top it, in my mind, would be to call in my Oma to cook up her matzoball soup: simmered the old-fashioned way with a chicken in the pot, parsnip, celery, onions, carrots, all kinds of who-knows-what magic, plus…a package of Lipton’s soup mix, her tried-and-true American twist.  Don’t know how it works, but it does.  Now that I abstain from chicken, this comforting cauliflower-kale number is the closest I’ve come to recreating those childhood days at Oma’s house, nursing a steaming, white-and-blue, old-Jewish-lady-type bowl of pillowy matzoballs and delicious liquid gold.

Enjoy, friends!  See y’all next week.

Katie’s Kale and Cauliflower Soup,
a.k.a. What Oma Would Cook If She Were Vegetarian

1 yellow onion
1, 2, or 3 habanero peppers, halved (careful not to touch your eyes after you touch the seeds!)
2/3 cup uncooked bulgur
3 cubes Rapunzel bouillon + 5 cups water, OR 5 cups veggie broth
a few glugs of olive oil
1 small head cauliflower, cut into trees
1 small bunch kale (depending how big the bunch is — prob’ly half of 1 supermarket unit)
3 carrots, peeled and cut into discs
1 can or so cooked chickpeas
(or you can cook them yourself beforehand — like a coffee-mug’s-worth of dried beans)
a couple pinches of salt
1/2 cup OJ
cilantro if you’ve got some handy



Dice the onion and throw it into a big soup pot, bottom coated with olive oil, over medium-high heat. (That’s 4 or 5 out of 7 on my dial.)  Halve the habaneros and toss them in, too.  Sautée until the onions are translucent and yummy-smelling.

Meanwhile, measure out your water and bouillon cubes (or broth, if that’s what you’re going with), and start chopping your produce.  When the onions are translucent (about 5-10 minutes), add the bulgur to the pot, stir, and add broth/bouillon + water.  Leave it alone for a while and finish chopping your cauliflower, carrots, and kale.

After 15 minutes or so, add the cauliflower; a couple minutes later, throw in the carrots.  Save the kale for last so it stays nice and green.  Remove the hot peppers before the pot gets so crowded you can’t find them anymore.

When the cauliflower is just about tender, toss in the chickpeas (already cooked, so they just need to get nice and warmed through) and add orange juice.  Taste the broth and adjust as necessary: more salt, olive oil, and/or orange juice.  Turn off the burner and then add the chopped kale, stirring it in so that the heat just barely cooks it through and you still get that nice crunch and structure.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if you’re into that.

Voilà!  ¡Bon probecho!

Randall Munroe Draws My Life

xkcd gets a little Buddhist on us. This strip is a wonderful illustration of the concept of “maya,” or the illusion that makes up our subjective world.

Buddhist perspectives on this will vary according to tradition and individuals, of course, but the way I see it, to describe the world as illusory is not to claim that the world doesn’t exist. When we talk about attachment to illusion, what we’re really describing is the way we react to all sensory inputs (including thoughts) as though they were solid, permanent, and inherently meaningful. We grab onto them (or flee) for dear life. We press more buttons!!! It’s important!

But why?  Just like the images on our computer screens, our experience is pixellated: reducible to smaller and smaller (or larger and larger) units that alter the meanings we ascribe to familiar phenomena.  When we investigate the ultimate nature of these phenomena (including, most importantly and terrifyingly, our “selves”), we see that they are essenceless.  There is no core meaning hidden among the quarks.  Just impersonal vibrations; lights.

Now, I’m not saying that when somebody’s pointing a gun to my head, all I need to do is remember, “This gun is made of a bunch of atoms,” and all will be well. Apparent, superficial reality does matter, and we can’t escape or control it by intellectualizing it. What we can do is learn to live with reality, as reality — which means remaining awakened to the constant impersonal changes in our lives.  Changes that our deep mind is constantly processing, reacting to with craving or aversion, while our proximate mind is busy spinning its own stories, going about the day executing a slightly more complex version of “pressing buttons to make the pattern of lights change however I want.”

When we quiet our mental chatter, gain some insight into the impermanence of phenomena, and train the mind to respond with equanimity, we create more spaciousness and freedom to respond, not react, to lights and pixels.  Rather than fearing, hating, craving or ignoring them, we can interact with them with greater patience, wisdom, and skill.

Awakening, graduating from ardent button-pressing, isn’t simple, and it isn’t easy.  Far as I can tell, it takes a loooong time, and much diligence.  A month from now, I’ll head back down to North Fork, CA for my third 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course, which is the form of practice most useful to me in dealing with the pixel problem.  10-day courses are tough.  The hardest work I’ve ever done, by far — and also the most rewarding.

Wishing us all well in developing practices to deal with our metal boxes.  I mean lives.

Amending the Schedule

It’s amazing to think back six months to when I first arrived in the Bay Area, with nothing to do but look for work.  No major activities, no responsibilities to anyone.  How can things change so much in six short months?

Life these days is something of a Hirshfieldian five-legged chair:

  • Faithful Fools: apprenticing with Tenderloin spiritual-realist matriarchs
  • Art school: blogging and theorizing; submitting monthly assignments
  • Political education: post- organizing for March 4th, now regrounding myself through study groups
  • Dharma: deepening my daily meditation, seeking out communities of advanced practitioners
  • Relationships: a partner, a posse, friends, family, and a few animals

Yeah, it’s feelin’ like a lot.

And I’ve been hanging on to the blogging for dear life, trying like heck to publish every weekday.  But the truth is, that kind of frequency costs me the time to consider the meta-questions, to develop my nascent theories of mindful blogging.  And that’s what I’m in grad school for, after all!

So for the next little while, I’ll be backing off on the daily posting, probably limiting it to three days a week.  I’m genuinely surprised at how difficult this feels for me — how much of a sacrifice or failure it seems — given that, on multiple occasions, I’ve cheerfully abandoned the blog for months at a time.  So, as Shaila Catherine might observe, this becomes my work for the moment: developing equanimity in letting go and switching up the schedule.

Spiritual practitioners thrive in unpredictable conditions, testing and refining the inner qualities of heart and mind. Every situation becomes an opportunity to abandon judgment and opinions and to simply give complete attention to what is. Situations of inconvenience are terrific areas to discover, test, or develop your equanimity. How gracefully can you compromise in a negotiation? Does your mind remain balanced when you have to drive around the block three times to find a parking space? Are you at ease waiting for a flight that is six hours delayed? These inconveniences are opportunities to develop equanimity. Rather than shift the blame onto an institution, system, or person, one can develop the capacity to opt to rest within the experience of inconvenience.

– “Equanimity in Every Bite” (Fall 2008)

A welcome reminder.  And a very helpful practice for those of us with wee control issues.  Just yesterday, when I found myself spiraling downward into disappointment and resentment at canceled plans, I remembered equanimity.  And my disappeared dinner date transformed into a chance to walk, for the very first time, around Oakland’s lovely Lake Merritt.  

Gorgeous late afternoon and evening, complete with a sweet springtime surprise.

So who knows — maybe this downsizing of the blog will open up some other opportunities.  Regardless, I’m happy for the chance to practice letting go.

See you Wednesday, then!

More For the Weyr

Adoring this elephantine addition to the Stat Dragon family.  By the terrifically dope Aaron Zonka, who I met at a party where he was literally That Guy In The Corner Quietly Sketching Things Of Genius.

If you’re in the Bay Area, check out his series of fabulous art/music shows, “Under the Table Gallery.”  Live performers, exhibitions for sale and viewing, snacks and libations, the whole deal.  Next one is April 24th, 5-10pm, 248 Felton Street.

Thanks, Aaron!  See you Monday, everybody.

Three Blog Posts, a Poem and a Song

I try not to do too many reading-list posts, mainly because I know that most of us have our own gigantic stacks of reading to get to.  But!  These pieces are simply dope and exciting, and written or shared with me by people I like.  Plus, the collection represents, in a way, some key themes in my life right now: feminism, political work, and spirituality.  So!

The lovely and talented author of This Moi (elder sister of ei powell) has a guest post up at Jezebel on the Man To Man (M2M) phenomenon — as experienced by herself, a keen and observant young woman of color, during a trip to a shooting range.

brownfemipower (my esteem of whom is well documented) contributed a ridiculously good piece to Feministe, on citizenship privilege in sexual/sexualized violence.

And!  The Advance the Struggle collective (AS) published their analysis of the March 4th day of action (for public education in California + beyond), which breaks down, in very useful, insightful ways, the dis/advantages of two different tendencies among the anti-capitalist players involved, and how to combine their strengths into a “genuine class struggle left.”  Personally, it helped me clarify and contextualize my experience participating in the SF March 4th committee, which I found pretty frustrating overall.  In hindsight, I now understand a lot of the key ideological splits that I couldn’t articulate at the time.  As AS puts it, “the [clashes] of approaches to radicalizing consciousness were key determinants in differentiating the political forces in the movement.”  Also nifty to see analyzed summaries of all the different major actions in Cali, as well as efforts in Seattle.  Check it out.

This poem, which my boss read to me during our latest reflection session (yes, I’m lucky enough to have good poetry in my work meetings!) immediately resonated with a fear that’s been haunting me ever since I started deepening my meditation practice last year.


by Jane Hirshfield



It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books —

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Will it be possible for me to combine a lifelong commitment to practicing dharma (with the retreat experience and internal work required) while at the same time holding on to worldly commitments like partnerships and social justice work?  Oftentimes I sense that someday, in this one lifetime, I’ll have to choose.  Do you ever feel that way?

Finally, a little something by Ahmad Jamal, just because.

Happy Thursday, friends, and happy birthday Henry Mills!

Introducing the Stat Dragon

by Jeffrey Donato

A stat counter is a common tool that lets bloggers see the number of people who visit their site.  I learned about it back in 2005, when I first became acquainted with blogs, and have interacted with stat counters and traffic graphs in my bloggerly life ever since.  Every day (ok let’s be real: practically every five minutes), I check my traffic chart on Kloncke to see how many people are reading.  I glance at the line graph and its 15-day history, with the current day’s data point climbing ever upward until the stroke of midnight, when its ascending carriage takes a pumpkin-like tumble back down to zero.  New day, new stats.

Within the past few months, I noticed myself monitoring my stat charts with increasing closeness and intensity.  It became sort of embarrassingly compulsive.  I checked my traffic at Gmail-like intervals (read: Too Frequently).  And of course, my heart would soar and sink according to the graph’s altitude.

High: high.

Low: low.

Many page views: “My writing is helping people.”

Few views: “This blogging thing is just a narcissistic waste of time.”

Et cetera.

And then, the real kicker: auto-adjusting scale.

Let’s say I’ve been plugging along on my little blog for a month, and one day I get 25 views, the next day 30, the next day 7, and so on.  The top of the y-axis represents the largest number of views in a single day: 150.  The smallest, one notch above zero, is 3.  Then, one day, the blog is viewed 170 times.  What happens to the chart?

Continue reading

Touring the TL, Screwing Over Its People

by Thor Swift for the NYT

I honestly don’t have much to say about this article from the NYT (lead photo taken directly in front of our home at Fools’ Court) on a potential new tourism trade in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (TL) district.  The backward priorities, exploitation, and opportunism seem pretty obvious to me.

Encouraging adventure-seeking San Franciscans to visit may be easier than selling the Tenderloin to tourists, city tourism officials say. Laurie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the recent efforts “a step in the right direction,” but added that it was a “very, very long road” to make the neighborhood appealing.

Appealing to whom?  Not the people who live here, but outsiders — with money to spend.  The bright side here, I suppose, is exposing the persistence of the trickle-down mentality that drives city planning.  Promoting tourism will supposedly help businesses, which will supposedly help…homeless folks?  Not likely.  Most stores around here won’t even let you in to use the bathroom if you look like you’ve spent the night on the streets.  Which might appear to be the case even if you do sleep inside, in a shelter or SRO: single-resident occupancy.

Just a couple days ago, at the feminist Marxist study group at the Faithful Fools, we talked with Diane, a longtime visitor to the Fools, about her experiences living in an SRO.  It’s sort of like a jail, she said with a chuckle.  You’re permitted a limited number of visits every month.  (8 per month is the max at her place, she thinks.)  Since you can’t have more than 3 people per room, a single mother with three children is out of luck.  There are no kitchen facilities, turn-of-the-century wiring (making personal cooking devices surefire circuit overloaders), and one communal microwave for all 150 tenants.  You’re supposed to get 24 hour’s notice before anyone comes to inspect your room, but managers rarely honor rules like that.

Diane teaching Ryan some dance moves.

Not to say that SROs are no better than sleeping in doorways.  But investing in them as tourist attractions?  How exactly is this helping to create, as Gavin Newsom claims, “a positive identity for the Tenderloin”?  Why not tax rich people (a.k.a. wealthy tourists and corporations) and put funding directly into improving and expanding housing?  Making it a human right in practice, not just in theory?  Of course, the city instead assists landlords who evict low-income tenants in order to turn rental units into condominiums (through legislation like the Ellis Act, which Diane was explaining to us). Meanwhile, the thousands of housing units currently vacant could easily eliminate homelessness altogether.

Forget appealing to tourists.  Personally, I’d rather the folks of the TL follow the lead of Homes Not Jails, who just a week ago occupied a vacant building, resisting eviction and declaring the duplex public property.  Organizing in opposition to state-supported capitalist institutional violence would give the Tenderloin a much more “positive identity,” in my mind, than million-dollar slum museums and “hundreds of [fucking] plaques on buildings throughout the neighborhood.”