Monday, October 01, 2018

When Dharma (and/or Dharma Teachers) Seem/s to Say You Suck

I just got done teaching a weekend program in Chicago with Acharya Charlene Leung. The title was Healing Harm for Vibrant and Just Community: Exploring Social and Personal Power.

It was a revision from a previous program she has been working on for a few years, a version of which we did in Minneapolis awhile back. The version she had been developing focused more on unconscious bias, especially with race, and social conditioning. How to shake that social conditioning to build more vibrant Shambhala centers with true inclusivity and equity.

However, we were making the final course description when the Shambhala situation broke, and it became clear to both of us immediately that the program needed to be able to more directly include what was now a big part of our community. Thus, the new title - and new focus - was born.

The program was rich and deep, and we both learned a lot, as well as the participants, about all that goes into all three components: power, harm, and healing.

However, what stays with me most, and what I want to write about today, is an insight Charlene had towards the end of the weekend, as the two of us discussed our plan for Sunday's portion of the program. It relates to the hairy territory of intention versus impact, both in regards to teachers, and in regards to teachings.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Wide Open Heart Failures

Welcome to Miriam's Now-Monthly Missive on the Shambhala Situation,

I am writing to you again (Letter #1 is here and #2 is here) because regularity and requests have helped me assemble my thoughts and share them. As I find is often the case with practice,  structure helps create a container to show up in. Without structure, I would be overcome by doubt, or give in to the idea that I will just do it "eventually." Instead, I know folks are waiting to hear from me, and get a sense of what I am experiencing, what my questions are, and what resources I have to share.

I offer none of these letters as answers, instead, as a showing of my path of exploration, with hopefully some angles you haven't yet considered, and information you haven't yet tracked. There are a lot of things to track, and endless ways to think and feel about what is going on.

So please, listen to yourself first. May my sharing help you share - both with yourself and with others.

This edition consists of three parts. 

The first part is excerpts from readings I've done this summer from books and information sources I had read before, but now with a new context. The three books are Eyes Wide Open by Mariana Caplan, The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg, and A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield.

I discovered Caplan's book through another Miksang teacher around ten years ago and was blown away by how she described relationship to practice. Her insights now about relating to teachers have taken on a whole new level with what has happened this summer in Shambhala.

Goldberg's book is her memoir about coming to terms with the imperfections of both her birth father and her dharma master, Katagiri Roshi, around sexual inappropriateness/misconduct. I read this also when it came out, and had a feeling of relief that Sakyong Mipham wouldn't do anything of the things described in the book that Katagiri Roshi did. More on that when we get to it....

Kornfield's title is one I have read portions of for Karuna Training, but someone on Facebook pointed it out it has an entire chapter on troubled relationships with teachers.

The second part is more personal reflections on leadership, holding space, and more.

The third part is similar to what I have shared at the end of each of these missives - further resources for reading, digesting, contemplating.

Please enjoy. Take breaks. Think and feel for yourself. I thank you for reading and for asking me to write about this. I take that assignment deeply inside and share back out what I find. Please feel free to share in comments - respectfully, thoughtfully, and with some space around what you have to say.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Here Comes the Flood

It's been a very intense week in Dane County, Wisconsin.

On Sunday, I returned from co-teaching a week-long Karuna Training retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico:
View of the road and Pedernal in the distance. Note the dryness, despite flash floods the first night we were there.

And on Monday night, we had severe and rapid enough thunderstorms to cause serious mass flooding not two blocks from my house in Madison. This is after one night of rain and a few days of having to release Lake Mendota to preserve the dam into the river that flows south to further, now overflowing, lakes:

What's in the middle of the photo is a bench and what's in front of it is normally sidewalk. Yahara River in Tenney Park.
Here are more photos to help you get a sense of what it is like around here right now.

If maps are more your style, check here. We live at N. Baldwin and E. Washington.

As you can see by the maps, we live on an Isthmus, which is a strip of land between two lakes. While Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are not "Great Lakes" (EG Superior or Michigan, which do border Wisconsin), they are pretty substantial. Not ponds. And over the last few days, I have learned a lot more than I used to know about these lakes and the land on which I live. Namely, that the lakes are kept extra high for recreational purposes; that the Isthmus was once and really should still be a marsh in most places (including where my house stands); and that our storm drain system is poorly managed.

We are facing what could be called a natural disaster, but actually, it's a man-made or man-contributed-to disaster. Of course, many have warned of this for years, but most of us weren't listening. And those who were listening (those in charge) were ignoring, for all the reasons we ignore things - money, denial, opposing interests.

A projected map that's been shown on and off for years, which is re-surfacing now. When it has been shared, it has mostly ignored by those in power repeatedly.

Of course, this land used to be cared for by native people who were driven out centuries ago in order to make a state capitol in this precarious but beautiful city. I am feeling all the layers of our mis-management, climate change, and colonialism coming home to roost this week, as we sandbag my house and those of loved ones and strangers nearby.

Ilana is currently wet-vacing the "normal" amount of water we have in the basement (when you live on an isthmus, you do get wet basements; at least that we are aware of) so we can re-seal the sewer drain (lest it pop up and fill our basement with shit, which it will do if too many houses flood) and hunker down for storms beginning this afternoon.

Ironically, because of where we live, we are both part of the current problem and also subject to the results of the solutions. They've been draining Lake Mendota, which is top in our four lake water system, and so the Lake closest to our house (by a hair, we are nearly equidistant between Mendota and Monona) is "safe" as you can see in this animation, where it remains below 100 year flood levels.

However, we are also very close to the Yahara River (two blocks) and the even bigger issue is that we are at a low spot on the Isthmus (around 851 feet above sea level) which means our storm drains are full right now and ready to burst at the slightest increase. We are less likely to flood because of either the lakes or rivers, but because our storm drains can't drain into either of those bodies of water. In fact, the last few days, water has been coming *out* of the drains and filling our streets. This is all really well explained historically in this incredible document (long read but worth it if you want to see how we got to this point in Madison).

So we are as ready as we can be, and now we wait. Will it rain? Too hard and too fast? Will they have to release Lake Mendota again, flooding the system and pushing water up out of our storm drains? Or will the storms pass to the North and West, which won't effect us immediately but a few days down the road? Or will it all dry up, like rains do in New Mexico?

Let all this preparation be in vain. Only some already have experienced the consequences, so what we are waiting for has already passed in Madison and surrounding areas recently. I am scared that so few of my neighbors - including those in much more direct possible impact from flooding - are doing nothing. The National Guard is standing by, filling more bags and forcing them on to streets that are already flooding.

All we can hope for for now is that none of it will be needed, that there won't be worse damage. And all we can hope for soon after it is over, if not during this time, is for the uppity ups to pay the fuck attention and work harder on our water system.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Critical Devotion: A Second Letter from Miriam on Shambhala

Dear reader,

I have wondered if there was another letter in me. The first letter, and the following piece came out like a birth and afterbirth - I wrote them quickly, while still in the full pain feeling strength of the beginning of the situation. Since then, I have noticed my feelings dulling a bit, not because the situation has gotten less intense, but because my need to feel so deeply has modulated itself. Not to mention the fact that more complex emotions and thoughts are layering on top of each other now.

But then a student told me how helpful the first letter was - in fact, she and other remote Shambhalians (those without centers near them) had used it as basis for a conversation about what is happening, and others wrote their own letters after reading mine. I realized I do have some things to say, but mostly I have confusion to report.

Why should I report confusion? Because if I do it clearly, others will possibly see their own confusion mixed in mine. And, even more likely, others - or even I - will see the wisdom mixed in the confusion, because that is how wisdom and confusion roll. So here is a mix of experience, emotion, and thought, offered to you in order to help you find some resonance and consolation, clarity, and direction. Please take what you can and leave what you can't; it's not offered as debate, really, more as a sense of what a leader/teacher in Shambhala is thinking and feeling about all of this.

In a conversation with a meditation student this morning, she offered that this situation is like a muddy river - which is an analogy we use a lot in meditation instruction in Shambhala. Our minds often seem more like muddy rivers, but when we sit, the true nature of the water begins to reveal itself: clear, so long as we let the mud not disappear but settle into place. This situation won't settle for awhile - we are going to be in a muddy river a long time it seems, but that doesn't mean we can't work with our minds. In some ways, that's the main thing we can do now.

If you haven't read the first letter, please do. Respect the time and effort I put into writing these and see the context. May they all be of benefit.

1. War Zone/Apocalypse
A couple of weeks ago, a senior teacher told me I am now living in a sort of war zone. I blinked. What on earth could he mean? He explained how it was for him, when he lived through CTR's death and also the awful incidents around the death of VROT. The situation was constantly changing, with very little predictability. Important people would suddenly drop power or be put out of power, and news hit like bombs, blowing apart communities. Infighting, confusion, mass chaos. Ergo, war zone.

A few days later, without my repeating that line, an Acharya I was speaking to repeated the same thing. Clearly there was some resonance here, as these two teachers don't even know each other.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Where I Am

(This is a further exploration - this time more felt sense - of what is "going on right now in Shambhala." See this previous blog post for the details/what is going on, and resources/links. I think this likely stands on its own as writing, but context can help. "Where I Am" is a default prompt from Saundra Goldman's #continuouspractice community.)

Revised image:
Sandstorm by Linda Mead (shared with me, and given permission to me by the artist,
because she thought of this piece she made previously while reading this writing). 
I am in the desert. I thought this was an oasis, a placed beyond place, a respite from all the loss, the losses of all these years. Fear kept me here, in this mirage, convinced of that "What you see is what you get."