Monday, June 22, 2015

At the Intersection of Mindfulness and Compassion in a Complex World:Intro

A few items of note to start. I'm in the process of redesigning this blog, including getting a Creative Commons license and changing over to my real name. I thought of starting a whole new blog. On second thought though, in the spirit of Dogen's "one taste", I've decided to stick with this one. 

In regards to my name, using the pseudonym Happi was a compromise to appease my family. But like our country and government can attest, compromises can result in outcomes that are worse than nothing. After so many years it's beyond time that my writing be backed by the weight of my credentials as well as beyond time that I take ownership of what I've written.

I also want to formally welcome Gesshin Greenwood and her blog, That's So Zen, to the blogosphere. I've been following Gesshin's blog for some time and enjoy her light-hearted writing. Hey Gesshin, you'll be happy to know I don't do p0rn either! It's been wonderful to hear about your time in Japan and your efforts to learn Japanese. The world can only benefit from having another female translator. I know from my own efforts trying to translate Shiki haiku right before leaving for Antai-ji how difficult the translation process can be.

A few days ago I loaded up my car and took a route away from the beauty that is Green Gulch Farm where I've been practicing for the last 7 months. By far the pièce de résistance was the chance to practice together face-to-face with such a rich diversity of people from all walks of life. On the day of my departure, in addition to expressing my deep gratitude, I mentioned that I wished that the friend who suggested Antai-ji had suggested Green Gulch Farm instead. It would have made the last few years so much more straightforward. That's not a knock against Antai-ji at all. It is what it is. Speaking for myself, Green Gulch Farm was much better at providing the answers and experience I needed in order to find a better direction for my life than the direction it seemed to be heading in six years ago.

Besides the rich community life that Green Gulch offered and the model it serves as a simple way to step out of the mainstream capitalistic lifestyle, there was a clear advantage to becoming aware of all the San Francisco area has to offer in line with my interests. I had the wonderful opportunity of attending one of Joanna Macy's talks and was able to take enough time off to attend the 2015 Mindfulness and Compassion conference which I'll comment on in a subsequent post. In fact, there were so many area resources that I did not get a chance to explore and I hope to change that at some time in the future.

Today I have a different agenda. Today I want to introduce you to one of the truly remarkable women I had the opportunity of meeting and practicing with at Green Gulch: Dr. Grace Dammann. Grace is an especially warm-hearted powerful woman that developed comprehensive care for terminally ill AIDS patients in their final stages. Her life and her ability to continue on that path, as well as fulfill her intention to become a Zen priest, were derailed by a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge. You can imagine that meeting and learning her name and story was a jolting and transformative experience given the poem that I wrote so many years ago in reference to Avalokiteśvara without knowing of Grace Dammann's existence. Grace etched in that poem's meaning, for humanity, for Grace's life and for my own life in ways that only Grace and I, and the other refugees on the planet can know. 

While at Green Gulch I was truly amazed at Grace's quiet courage, patience and warmth in spite of what must be nearly constant frustration at her multiple injuries -- injuries that she never will entirely recover from, injuries that keep her wheelchair bound. I had the opportunity to see her film States of Grace just a few days after writing my post for Earth Day and I thank you, Grace, Fu, and the producers and directors of the film for providing me with the first step of an answer for my life, even though Grace and I asked different questions.

It is through Grace's courage that I've decided to tell my story, a story that began long before my presence on-line. I'm telling the story, or at least bits and pieces of it, not so much for myself since I know it will be viewed with a more critical eye. To a certain extent, by analogy, Grace's story is to my story like the victims in Nepal are to victims covered by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter even though I'm white and middle class and the systems of oppression I faced when facing white patriarchy are admittedly no where near as severe.

I'm telling my story to comment on systems and groups and minds that fall into habitual patterns of lethargy and/or tupor, and a system of Mindfulness and Compassion that can hurt instead of help in spite of the very best of intentions.

I'm telling my story so that fewer people arriving at the gate of practice will be lost and/or injured. I understand the world is a complex system, and that there is a certain amount of inertia in systems, group dynamics and individual minds. Nonetheless, I'm certain there is room for improvement. Every Sangha I've been a member of has lost sincere people. So I'll also be making suggestions for ways that mindfulness, or even mindfulness and compassion, as it is most commonly taught and received  these days could be made better.  

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