May 31, 2011
By Norman Fischer | 5/31/2011 @ 15:10 pm
Late May, 2011. Vancouver, Canada
Dear Everyday Zen friends,
I'm writing this a few days after President Obama's speech on the Middle East. The commentators and experts are now making expert comments on the meaning and implications of what the President has said. They are chattering and then others are chattering about what they have been chattering about - this is our "national conversation." Which I always find so very very odd. First there are the intimate facts of what is going on, then there are the social reverberations of those facts, and then there is the always-distorted reporting of these facts (which are always vague and dubious to begin with, and resistant to journalism: one reason why I am a poet); finally comes the interpretation, the chattering. Which has its own life.
And this is how the world goes!
Poor President Obama. He is a smart, sophisticated, and heart-felt person, and I have no doubt he understand this process all too well. He knows that he can only say something within the realm of permissible Presidential discourse, as such discourse has been created by past presidents and our current political moment. If he ever said what he actually thought and felt, shock waves would roll round the world. Stock markets would fall and governments would collapse.
I am always struck by the huge gap between what is actually so and what responsible officials can say in public. Wouldn't it be nice if leaders could actually say how they see things and what they actually feel? It would be strange and wonderful if there was honesty and soulful concern expressed in public discourse instead of posturing and hot air! I think we would all become different people in a world in which such a thing were possible. We would feel more connected to ourselves and we would be happier and more hopeful, even in bad situations. As it stands now, we are all in the thrall of some weird spell. We have the feeling that the world is not as it is daily described; and yet since everyone, including the most astute among us, agrees the descriptions make sense, they must! But they don't.
If our leaders, who are prisoners of their roles, can't do this, maybe we can. Why not take the risk and come out of our own public postures (we are generally public to ourselves) and be more honest and more heart felt in our expression to one another? In order to do this we first must be in touch with ourselves: this is why we sit. And then, getting up from our meditation cushion, we must have the courage to speak with real connection and honesty about what is on our minds. Usually if we do this, what we have to say comes out of kindness, because we don't want to be hurt, and we don't want to hurt anyone else.
This, at any rate, is what we have been trying to practice in all the Everday Zen venues, from our local Zen sangas up and down the Pacific Coast, to our work with the Metta Institute, the Center for Understanding in Conflict, Company Time retreats, Makor Or Jewish Meditation Center, and the Lawyers' Working Group. Being honest with ourselves means being honest about our pain. Speaking to others out of that honesty, realizing that they are the same as us, is always healing.
Lets keep doing this together!
Thanks, as always, for your support and your efforts in practice. As we continue, we will eventually help create a world in which justice and peacefulness prevail. Little by little, day by day.
May 20, 2011 - on an airplane
By Norman Fischer | 5/21/2011 @ 6:56 am
May 20, 2011
I am typing this on an airplane on an ipad with a keyboard that attaches
to the ipad. on my way to vancouver, for weekend sesshin. i have been
reading a book about zen and post modern thought written by a
professor, pub in 2000 so written in the 1990's, an eon ago. on the
machine is a string quartet of shostakovitch, the 8th, played by the
sorrel string quartet, an all-woman group, that's recorded all
shostakovitch's string quarters, I don't know how many. they are very
very good. i have two of the cd's on my machine so i can listen to them
while i am typing on ipad on airplane zooming up pacific coast. this
is how it is in these days.
the airplane TV is playing friday night lights, a show about texas high
school football players. it must be a serious show because the lighting
is very dim and you can hardly see the actors.
post modern thought is very interesting to me. people trying to think
beyond the obvious and to make everything into a problem, into something
mysterious. well they are right that everything is a problem and is
i am very charged up about about susan bee's upcoming show at a i r
gallery on front street in brooklyn. it's called "recalculating" (the
way your gps recalculates when you've lost your way). opening is later
this month, probably in a few days. go see this show! the paintingss
are great, clear and pure and simple. you can see some of them online.
i plan to go see the show on june 11, saturday, when at the gallery
charles bernstein (who's a brilliant kind pal of mine and is susan's
husband) will be having a book event probably for his new book "attack
of the difficult poems," which i just read. this is a great book! you
must read this book! it will provide you with an education about what
is happening, has been happening, in the world of post modern poetry and
why it is important for everyone to pay attention to it, important
socially, personally, religiously. also very funny (the book is funny)
and brilliant and a pleasure to read. i was sad when i finished it, but
well, isn't this always what happens.
4 pm. i will be coming down from garrison from the buddhist teachers
meeting that's being held there, ending that morning. so i hope i can
make it in time.
giving a talk the next night (june 12) at brooklyn zen center, my
favority zen center. on zhaozho's dog and the two sides of our
practice. you must go there! go to the brooklyn zen center! i'll see
May 12, 2011, Muir Beach
By Norman Fischer | 5/13/2011 @ 8:14 am
Ruth sent me this link to blog of a Japanese nurse who went to help with disaster relief in March, after the quake and tsunami.
Very sad stuff, but more than sad, stark. When stuff like this happens here far away from it you don't know what to think, you go numb, anxious, guilty that this is going on and you can't do anything about it. Agonizing.
But this person did do something. She says in the beginning she's not a saint. Doesn't sound like a saint, sounds like a person.
I confess that I have no objectivity when it comes to Japanese people. Don't know why I feel this way, there's no reason for it, but I have such affinity for the Japanese way of seeing and being in the world - so simple it seems to me, with a humanity and delicacy and beauty that seems completely natural, not forced, and it is everywhere evident in the tone of this blog, as it is in so much Japanese literature.
The news of Japan is already fading (unless you watch, as I do, the Japanese news in English on Public tv) out of our tiny attention span. But tv and radio don't actually tell you what's going on anyway, they are essentially deceptive (or, at least, they tell you what is real in tv format, not live format). Maybe there is no way to know what it's like there- or in south's recent tornadoes or current Mississippi flooding. It ends up being mostly projection and fantasy. Read this blog for a dose of something else, a person-eye view. We need to know about this stuff!
Muir Beach, May 4, 2011
By Norman Fischer | 5/04/2011 @ 10:05 am
Bin Laden is dead. It's a great victory for America and Obama they say and maybe it will help us to recognize that the War against terror should never have been a war and that now we can declare that it is over. Fight terror and find terrorists, but bring troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. This is good. But it is of course impossible to rejoice over the death of a human being, any human being. I have never shared the feeling of Bin Laden as a devil, as evil incarnate. He was a human being with a powerfully destructive belief system, not Islam, that he came by honestly, through the powerfully negative forces of history. He is us when we are resentful and full of fury over the injustices that have happened to us, when we lash out. Us magnified and twisted beyond recognition.
Interesting column by David Brooks today in which he says that the source of Bin Laden charisma was his piety and gentleness. That in personal matters he was kind, forgiving, and asking for forgiveness when he was less than thoughtful. That he was generous in his approbation of his colleagues. That his handshake was gentle, his gaze benign.
In fact this seems true, judging from photos. Not true of Hitler who looked nasty. Not that Bin Laden was not nasty. Yet it seems he was not a soldier not a killer but a religious idealist. His example shows the power of that sort of idealism, its capacity to inspire others, and it's enormous destructive power. Thomas Merton (courtesy of Joan Halifax):
The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of an interior voice, but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel, within his own heart, a big, warm, sweet interior glow. The sweeter and the warmer the feeling, the more he is convinced of his own infallibility. And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he really is a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.
Another recent magazine piece I'm reminded of, in The New Yorker, about Obama's foreign policy, notes that there's a gender split in the State Department (amazing in itself that there could be enough women in the Department with a woman's point of view that there could be a gender split). Hillary and her female allies emphasizing "soft" power, society, culture, poverty, women's issues in particular, with the men emphasizing "hard" power, high level diplomacy, force, states. Maybe the death of Bin Laden will usher in a new era of soft power, which is going to work better in the long run. Something in foreign policy that for a change we can feel good about.
Karma: this is the way Bin Laden wanted to die, the way his actions dictated that he would die. No way he was going to die of old age, peacefully in his bed. His successors will not equal him. They will be warriors, not gentle, ruthless, determined souls. They won't inspire unity of vision and religious inspiration. Al Qaida is mortally wounded.
April 29, 2011. Muir beach
By Norman Fischer | 5/03/2011 @ 9:53 am
I have been trying to think about
gender. In response to disclosures of sexual misconduct in North American Buddhist communities, we've been having some
conversations here in the sangha, mostly small private groups that we
intend eventually to turn into small "rolling" conversations, for those
who want. Especially the delicate discussion about gender in teacher
student relationship, which comes out as subrosa erotic currents as well
as weird power relations that no one wants to think about or admit are
there (least of all me!). Too difficult to talk about because there are
no clear edges to it, that is, it brings you into the vague borders of
what is conscious and not, what is actually going on or not. Then you
think about it or write about it in a blog and you are inevitably saying
something that is exaggerated or not true or you are forgetting to say
the one thing that is true and salient. So one could argue that it is
better not to have brought up such a thing at all.
Then there is the problem of who is speaking, a young or old
person, a man, a woman, hetero or homosexual or something in between,
teacher, student, new student, old student, and one's whole disastrous
and confusing personal history enters into it. Who is not vulnerable
and confused here? Even the great zen master is clueless! Zhaozho and
company never went into this territory. So yes, better not to get into
it, yet of course there it is, laying there on the table right in the
middle of the meal, like a smelly old dead fish.
So I suppose the intention is to bring it up, get uncomfortable and
confused, hurt one another irreparably, and then move on as if none of
that had ever happened! Excellent! Truth is, spiritual practice together
in an intimate sangha is all about love, certainly I do love people who
practice with me (not "my" "students," I still can't see that, though I
recognize the place I occupy and try to occupy it as long as I am
standing in it). Do I love women more than men? Not more, but yes
differently being a heterosexual guy, at least as far as I can tell.
Generally I like women a lot. But maybe there is no way that could be
true, because there is no way I don't see women thru a male sexualized
lens and therefore cannot possibly see them? Which would have to go the
same for men too I guess, in reverse? Which would mean that my
perceptions of everyone are distorted. And yet I remain absolutely
convinced of what I see, even though I know better. I do know better.
And we are trying, together, to get to the truth of things, despite
all this. And what do we mean by truth? Is it a feeling we have, or
don't have, or would like to have about our lives? Does truth make us
feel better? If we feel better, does this mean we are truthful?