Friends, I’m sorry for the extended blog silence! I’ve been in a bit of a weird place lately. Evident in the state of my bedroom (look like a hurricane blew through), my online habits (browsing Texts From Last Night), and chronic mental tangents that destroy my book-reading abilities (more on that later).
Also, awareness is heightening around the matters that cannot be shared or discussed on this blog. Including: much of my work (for confidentiality reasons); specifics of my love life (for family diplomacy reasons); and my dad’s recent bouts with illness (for his-privacy reasons). As you well know by now, there’s not much about my day-to-day existence that I feel is too “private” or “sacred” or even mundane to share. It’s all life. But not all of life belongs in this blogspace. Gotta dance around some of it. These days, my figurative thighs are getting a workout.
In any case, here are a couple family photos from yesterday, at my pop’s 70th birthday party — actually more of a celebration of life, resilience, recovery, and the amazing network of friends, kin, and pets who have all contributed to his recovery from a near-fatal health crisis. They say a lot, and very little.
At different times in my life, I’ve been inclined to sit up straight, and I’ve been inclined to slouch. Maybe the same is true for you.
Unsurprisingly, at the times when my default is to sit up straight, I’m usually active in dance, yoga, or some sort of regular exercise that both strengthens my back and brings awareness to my bodily experience. This is kind of the mechanical explanation for posture: practice makes perfect. Just do it.
But recently a book helped me to re-member another, subtler aspect of sitting up.
It takes some courage.
Really. When I’m sitting erect and alert, I feel more permeable. I am not hiding. My body feels sturdy, in a way, but also fragile and exposed.
I think it’s possible to experience this fragility, openness, and permeable vulnerability even with a crooked spine. But for me, the straight spine is quite an effective jump-starter. It’s something I can control* that has a noticeable, positive (though sometimes challenging) effect on my mental state.
The act of sitting up automatically invites non-cognizing awareness. I’m not thinking, Okay, now shift the right hip 3 centimeters forward, raise the upper back 30 degrees… The awareness encourages the movement, and the movement encourages awareness.
This kind of awareness, or mindfulness, can feel pleasant, but it also contains a dark undertone. It is frightening to open awareness to painful sensations. Painful realities. Especially when I can’t control them with my thinking. I can’t think my way out of a sensory experience: an unpleasant smell, a twinge, a wave of nausea. And at the same time, burying them under mental chatter, while it may provide some temporary respite, does not make the unpleasantness disappear.
Why does this matter?
Maybe it doesn’t. But for me, returning to a straight back is like a small homecoming. In fact, regardless of whether I’m sitting straight or not, simply noticing where I’m at with my posture brings a different, brighter quality to my experience.
This is all dhamma stuff, in a way, and at the same time it’s non-sectarian, and not self-improvement. Straighten up, or don’t.
Now let us try coming to actual sitting. We leave the back of the chair for good, sensing the readjustments throughout our structure as the support is given up, feeling how we come more and more into the vertical, simultaneously reaching down to the seat of the chair and rising up from it.
If we are now really to relate to what we sit on, we must become much more awake than usual in the region of us directly in contact. Let us rise a little from the seat, pause, and gently find our way back without using hands or eyes. Can we find it? Ah! There is a definite meeting. Our nerves are as good down there as anywhere.
The question comes up: are we just padding down there where our sitting originates, as we may have always imagined? By no means! We begin to feel a definite structure, possibly as firm as the chair itself. To explore it let us raise one buttock and slip a hand underneath. Somewhat gingerly, we sit now on our own hand. Something in our bottom is not just firm but hard. Can we raise the other buttock, to sit on both hands at once? Ouch! We had not dreamed there would be such hardness. With relief, we divide our weight between our two hands, so as not to crush either. What is so hard in there? Even our heels do not seem so hard.
Cautiously, buttock by buttock, we leave our hands and return to the unprotesting seat. It becomes clear that, whatever the singular nomenclature for our bottom, sitting is actually divided between two sitting-bones. We can allow an equal or unequal distribution of weight, for more or less pressure on the seat, and of course on our own tissues. We can also “walk” with these sitting-bones. With a little experimentation, we find we can walk here and there on the seat until we are quite familiar with it, perhaps discovering a very agreeable perceptiveness in our own pelvis. Finally we may perch ourselves on the very edge of the chair, where our thighs no longer rest on anything, but bridge out into space. By this time our whole pelvis may be wide awake. [83-84]
*Even as I typed that sentence, my back slowly unfurled and straightened up in front of the computer! Ha! Now, we can’t always control our posture, or make our spine erect. I’ve been reminded of this over the last couple of months, watching my dad recover from a terrible spinal infection that initially made sitting up on his own impossible. Slowly, with agonizing pain, tremendous patience, and a lot of assistance, he regained the ability to sit up, to hermit-crab around the rehab center in a wheelchair, to stand, and now to walk, with a walker. What a gift, to be able to sit up straighter and straighter with less and less pain.
As per our plan, for our one-year dating anniversary, Ryan and I made our own hot sauce. It took 20 roasted habañeros (a.k.a. Scotch Bonnet peppers), four cloves of roasted garlic, and some elusive smoked paprika to blend up this incredibly delicious condiment. (Full recipe below, slightly tweaked from one we found online.) Some of the habs came straight from Ryan’s dad’s backyard garden — part of how we cooked up this idea in the first place.
And after it was finished, we took one of the two bottles on a journey down to the Mission for some pupusas.
Celebrating an extraordinary year with this wonderful person, near the annual TransgenderDay Of Remembrance, I was especially aware of the privileges and basic safety that we enjoy in our loving partnership. We are a legibly cisgender, hetero, same-age couple, both U.S. citizens, living in a time of war but unaffected by it directly. We live in a time and place where interracial relationships are largely accepted and even commonplace; where open relationships are at least acknowledged, if frequently maligned or misunderstood; and where I am not likely, as a woman, to be openly attacked for asserting my own sexuality, and seeking control over my own reproductivity.
I truly wish that loving — and simply living with integrity, with basic safety — did not require so much courage from so many people.
May my life’s work, and Ryan’s, contribute to bringing about conditions that encourage everyone to love in the best ways we know how.
Habañero Hot Sauce Recipe
20 habañero peppers
3-5 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp brown sugar (we used light brown)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
Equipment: Oven, baking sheet, food processor.
Set oven to 350º.
Peel and halve garlic.
Cut off stem tops and halve peppers (keeping the seeds).
Roast together on an oiled baking sheet until golden brown
and smelling amazing (about 20 minutes).
Add peppers and garlic to the food processor with dry ingredients.
Pulse to combine.
Slowly pour in wet ingredients while blending.*
When you've got a smooth, uniform consistency, adjust to taste.**
Bottle (we used a couple old hot sauce bottles) and refrigerate.
*Adding liquid too soon may result in splashing, necessitating turkey-baster triage.
**Ignore any eggings-on, and taste only a tiny bit at a time. Think twice before,
for instance, dipping a hunk of bread in the hot sauce as though it were hummus.
Not much more from yours truly today. Just thinkin’, readin’, cookin’, meditatin’, and trying not to catch pneumonia. (Slowly, slowly, my Cambridgewear is trickling into my Tenderloin closet. Yesterday, an enormous white scarf.)
Have a wonderful weekend, friends! See you next week!
Saturday I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to spend the day (and overnight) at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm with my friends Michaela and Sarah. Michaela, a newly ordained priest, has lived on the farm for the last 5 years, and since ordination in September, will undergo 4 more years of training before becoming … a more official priest! Or something. I’m not quite sure how the Zen works. And Sarah, who has taken her lay vows, is not only the executive director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, but also a true SFZC baby, raised by Zen teacher parents among its three campuses: Green Gulch, Tassajara, and City Center.
Anyhow, the two of them go way back, and it was a delight to spend a while walking, joking, thinking out loud, and generally hangin out with these amazing, brilliant, passionate dharma sisters. And the setting, while old-hat to them in some ways, for me was … well. Green Gulch — a functioning subsistence-plus-sales farm, as well as a practice center, located in one of the wealthiest counties in the US — has its issues, is evolving, is imperfect. And has its gorgeousness, my, my.
I hate tyranny.
Believe me, I do.
Each day I resolve anew to smash tyrannical impulses wherever they may lurk,
and destroy tyrannical structures wherever they may lord.
Like the sea star, my many arms stretch in many directions,
each fending off an enemy,
and like the sea star my guts burst forth out of my mouth,
and from my belly I bellow:
“Death to tyranny! Fuck you, tyranny! Fuck you!”
But countering my thrusts are a thousand treasons,
and even more traitors.
Every hour, it seems, an ugly surprise. A slap in the kisser.
I gamely push back. No pigeon shall shit on my head! It is declared.
No splinter shall burrow into my pinky,
No roommate shall pile up dirty dishes,
or sprinkle pubic hair on the toilet seat like an amateur parsley garnish.
No clock shall molasses its way through a boring psychology lecture
Or a morning at the DMV,
No mail delivery person shall give me the side-eye,
No ex-lover shall guilt-trip me with two tickets to Anthony Hamilton.
I fight every fight I can.
But these are just the preliminaries.
These are merely the foundational bricks of my anti-tyrannical fortress.
If I let these petty traitors get to me, I will lack the power necessary to defeat tyranny where it matters most.
So I grit my teeth and deplete my resources
(Each daily assault costs so many resources; it is truly exhausting.)
Let me tell you something.
One time, someone threw a glass of water in my face.
A fucking glass of water in my fucking face.
Can you imagine?
Who could do that to a person?
Not that it’s the worst thing been done to me, but still.
Who could ever justify throwing a glass of fucking water
In somebody’s fucking face?
At the time, what came to mind was a wind-battered cypress
reeling back from the treacherous coast, preparing
to strike the inevitable blow.
This week Kloncke is gonna be pretty foto heavy. Because I’ve been spending time in pretty places. Thinking a lot about land, too, and my connection to it (or estrangement from it).
Here, some shots from an amazing afternoon at Panther Beach, on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. Some of the best of Northern California, in its own way, I think. One of the things I love most about spots like this is the visible age and marks of motion in the stone. The oldness of the cliffs, and the patterns of waterwear and erosion. Makes me feel patient and slow and humbled. Kind of like being among elder redwoods.
I love cauliflower. I also love spicy things. For our one-year dating anniversary, Ryan and I are going to celebrate by making homemade hot sauce.
Recently when he and I went out to eat at a North Indian restaurant, we ordered everything “very spicy,” as usual. And as usual, the person taking our order kind of looked at us (particularly Ryan) with widened eyes, which, again, usually means “Yeah, yeah, sure, okay,” and then usually when we get the food it is not very spicy at all.
Fortunately (and unusually), however, this kind restaurateur took us at our word.
Probably some of the best Indian food I’ve had since coming back from a summer in India, in 2004.
And this recipe is not going to even approach that, but it is cauliflower and it is spicy and it does have ginger and cumin and turmeric and caramelized onions and two kinds of chiles, so I am certainly not complaining.
Man, I’ve missed spending real time in the kitchen. I’ve even started generating these weird food metaphors in my head. Yesterday’s fall weather felt heavy and bright, like lemon curd.
One of my favorites from the Hot Sevens. Recently arrived as part of a mix-CD gift from my friend Hozan Alan Senauke (of Berkeley Zen Center and Clear View Project). I had it playing this week when my friend Cat was over for tea, and we both looked at each other with a little jolt of recognition at the final, extra-long, lovely solo on this record, though I couldn’t remember the name of the song.
Last month, while Alan was over’ our place for our Working for Liberation retreat at the Fools (can’t believe I still haven’t written a full piece about that . . . dang), he noticed the two posters hanging in my room: one of Louis Armstrong and one of Billie Holiday. And so he offered to make me a mix.
Jazz of this calibre is what made me first fall in love with music, for real. It wasn’t until high school that I started staying up late into the night, listening to the same album over and over, letting it soak in. I can still practically sing along to the entirety of Kind of Blue.
Much gratitude to Alan, a musician at the mind- heart- body- and community- level.
Paramis, or Paramitas, also called the Ten Perfections, are qualities that dhammic practitioners try to cultivate on the path to enlightenment.
I found myself thinking about the Paramis throughout a long Friday night and Saturday, when I was arrested, along with 152 others, for “unlawful assembly”: marching in the streets of Oakland to protest police violence and impunity. I was held in custody for about 20 hours; some people still haven’t been released. (Please consider donating to legal aid for protester defense.)
A concrete detention cell might seem like a strange setting for reflecting on the attributes leading to Buddhahood. A far cry from the bucolic campuses of well-funded meditation centers. On the other hand, many people have famously developed their spiritual practice while incarcerated, or even while being tortured. I’m not saying that every setting is equally optimal for developing every part of dhammic practice. But once you’ve learned some of the basics in a more controlled, safe environment, it’s interesting to see how they can manifest in non-stereotypical situations.
He straps on a second backpack, belonging to his friend, who doesn’t have papers, to afford more mobility for avoiding arrest.
They trade jokes and soggy jail cookies. They offer room for one another on the concrete benches of the cramped holding cell.
Lawyers work for free to get the protesters out of jail. The work can take months, for folks facing trumped-up charges.
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
In jail, they give us plasticized bologna and surprisingly good oranges. Over twelve hours later, they’ve given nothing else. We practice responding to this harm without suffering. We practice fasting. We explore the limits of our basic needs.
In jail, when we ask at 5am how much longer they think we’ll be here, we are told: Ask me how much longer, and I’ll hold you here an extra hour. Ask me again, and I’ll hold you two more hours. We practice responding to this harm without suffering. We practice abiding. We explore the limits of our basic needs.
Knowing the risks, we have nevertheless stood up for what we believe. Some of us are better accustomed to making do in these conditions. All of us are being reminded that we are more than our comforts.
This is a complex one. Can we understand the nature of impermanence, egolessness, and unsatisfactoriness of phenomena? Can we respond to the relative world of material harm, while still practicing diligently on our inner liberation from needless suffering?
As the zip-tie handcuffs cut off circulation and my shoulders begin to ache and tingle, I summon my meditation practice, explore the pain, and try my best to observe the present moment with equanimity. After three hours or so, the handcuffs are cut off.
As we are blocked in by riot police, some with machine guns, on a residential Oakland street, we keep chanting:
WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT!
As we are handcuffed and lined up seated on the pavement, we keep chanting:
WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT!
As my 20-hour family sits in our women’s holding cell, hour after long hour, we cheer and applaud as each individual is released. The cops try to intimidate us, say they’ll keep us there longer if we keep up the noise. Same for the adjacent women’s cell, where we can hear them yelling. We all keep on celebrating. And together we chant:
WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT!
Patience is best when combined with sound strategy. Do I hope to move beyond marches? Yes. Do I want to help grow the movement against police violence, proliferating it in different sectors with the power to disrupt the economy in big ways? Yep. Do I want to simultaneously develop community-based safety systems that are actually accountable, healthy, and responsive to the needs of participants? Hell yes. Will all this take time? You bet. Waiting it out in jail is only one small part of the process.
Bearing witness directly is a wonderful antidote to media spin and misinformation. Contrary to sensationalist reporting, this was not a violent, roaming mob. We were trying to march to the Fruitvale station where Oscar Grant was killed, and menacing riot police hemmed us in at every turn, so we improvised the route. This is not marauding; it is a snake march. Which authorities don’t like very much, because they are not in total control of it.
Again, contrary to reporting, the purpose of our demonstration was not to wreak havoc. The super, super, nearly total majority of people, including every single person I knew, damaged no property. And even those who may have, engaged in no violence that I saw. Property destruction is very different from violence. And even though I don’t support the former in this case, I don’t want it irresponsibly conflated with the latter, the way the mainstream media consistently has in its coverage of the Oscar Grant case.
You know what’s violent? Denying a woman in custody access to her chemotherapy treatment. She was only one of many people I witnessed being denied medical attention — to antidepressants, to necessary medications. And when the woman who was ill from missing her chemo finally got transferred to a cell with a pay phone, called the National Lawyers Guild to tell them what was happening, and half an hour later the cell door rolled open . . . the cops berated her for “costing them a lot of time and money,” and informed her that because of what she’d done, they would delay her release.
Another interesting element around truth: When they had us cornered, just before they arrested us, the police declared a crime scene and instructed everyone from the press to disperse, while still preventing the rest of us (who wanted to go peacefully) from leaving. Nearly all the professional journalists crossed the police line to depart. Kind of chilling, given that the event that catalyzed all this was documentation of an act of police violence against an unresisting, restrained person.
A final truth: From what I saw, and this is only my own personal impression, many of these cops appear to be deeply scarred people. The one who kept me in line on the arrest scene before we boarded the paddy wagons wouldn’t even look me in the eye at first. The internal damage and delusion of a jailer is cyclical: one must already be suffering in order to lock someone up and deny them food or medicine for twelve hours (whether the denial is polite and bureaucratic or spiteful and direct is largely irrelevant). And participating in that process itself produces more delusion, more scarring, more habit patterns.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” . . . Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Much gratitude to all my fellow detainees who made my time in custody human and even fun.
Much gratitude to all who have offered their support from the outside.
Much gratitude to all those who continue to oppose oppression, even when doing so is unpopular.
May all beings be safe. May no human be trapped in a cage. May no human be psychologically conditioned to harm others in an effort to make themselves feel more powerful and secure. May we abolish prisons and end policing as we know it, replacing them with participatory processes that care for people and treat all living beings with dignity.
May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be free.