A miracle at Standing Rock

Yes, a miracle is what we need, what the world needs. Charles Eisenstein suggests that the miracle could begin at Standing Rock. The miracle of action out of compassion, seeing the Other as oneself, opening one’s heart to the realities of all beings – a miracle of love.

The halting of the Dakota Access Pipeline would be miraculous simply because of the array of powerful ruling interests that are committed to building it. Not only has Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the pipeline, but a who’s-who of global banks has committed over $10 billion in lines of credit to ETP and other involved entities. Those banks, many of whom are facing financial stress of their own, are counting on the profits from the loans at a time when credit-worthy capital investments are hard to come by. Finally, the United States government has (in its estimation) a geopolitical interest in increasing domestic oil production to reduce the economic power of Russia and the Middle East. To hope to halt the pipeline in the face of such powers is in a certain sense unrealistic.

But, Charles says, things could go differently this time, if we all stay off the warpath, as the elders have advised the Water Protectors to do. “… at Standing Rock, something different is possible. It is not because the Dakota Sioux have finally acquired more guns or money than the pro-pipeline forces. It is because we are ready collectively for a change of heart.”

That’s pretty strong. This is an opening not seen in a long time, and one that could stand as a non-violent model for all the confrontations we’re likely to see over the next four years or so. If the pipeline is re-routed, it establishes a precedent – we can affect even these huge corporate projects if we stay focused, unified and nonviolent.

It will be a victory whether to pipeline is stopped or not: “This has already born fruit: if not for the resolute nonviolence of the resistance, the government would surely have forcefully evicted the Water Protectors by now, justifying violence with violence.”

Each of these invitations onto the warpath also presents an opportunity to defy the enabling narratives of violence and to take a step toward victory without fighting. It is an opportunity to employ what Gandhi called “soul force.” Meeting violence with nonviolence invites the other into nonviolence as well.

Beyond that, this action has the potential to awaken the world:

… when we choose love in the face of enormous temptation to hate, we are issuing a powerful prayer for a world of love. When we refuse to dehumanize in the face of atrocity, we issue a prayer for universal dignity. When thousands of people sacrifice their safety and comfort to protect the water, a powerful prayer issues from their gathering. Some day, in some form, it will be answered.

Charles’ essay is very much worth reading:

Standing Rock: A Change of Heart

Journalists still held in ND

While Amy Goodman and Shailene Woodley have been released after their arrests in ND for the Standing Rock protests, several other filmmakers are still being held and are facing serious charges:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/20/north-dakota-oil-pipeline-protest-film-makers-face-prison

This assault on freedom of the press is clearly motivated by the pressure to stop the protests and keep us in the dark about what’s happening with this pipeline. I feel ready to scream.

Not a political essay

This is not a political essay. This is an effort to see beyond what’s happening on the surface and align my intentions with a clearer perspective. I begin with the political only because the moment is so full of the political.

The DNC is over and the expected outcome manifested. Some of it was good, some of it was really inspiring, but taking a moment to reflect on all the rhetoric, it is clear that though there’s a huge difference in the perspective of the two parties, there is not a lot of real understanding in either of them. While I clearly will do all I can to ensure the election of Clinton, given the alternative, I kinda admit to the clothespin analogy the Bernie supporter invoked last night. But let me be clear on that: I don’t really think even Bernie would be that much different.

I know, there are  “yuge”, even VAST, differences, and significant impacts on millions of people, but I’m taking a longer view here. What all of it, including the fascist impulses rampant in our society today, arises from is a profound disconnect that has buried itself in our consciousness so deeply that we are generally unaware of it.

As many of the speakers pounded home in the last few nights, ‘this is about more than party differences, it’s about people’! Yes, it’s about people, how people live and think, this dualistic mindset that insists on breaking everything down into a “battle” that must be “won”. Like Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever”, it’s a sickness born down deep within our souls.

Beneath all the philosophical and religious views and all our notions of right vs. wrong, there’s this one thing we agree on, and that is that there is such a thing as right and wrong, us and them, good and bad. It’s only in the definitions that we differ, only in the who is what, which usually means “they” are wrong and “we” are right.

And therein lies our essential problem.

Although in Buddhism as a religion there is as much dualism and right vs. wrong as most anywhere else, somehow there’s a core there, somehow the process of meditation itself – and this core is probably to be found in many other places as well, it’s just that Buddhism is where I found it – helps one break through the surface and experience things that make it clear – in a way that words can’t truly express and ideas can’t negate – that this ongoing process that I identify as “me” or “us” is just a point of light in great explosion that has likely been going on forever and will continue forever, because that’s really all there is is –forever.

This deeper level of experience (wherever one finds it), replicated and deepened throughout life, tends to snap all this political/social bullshit into some kind of relief. Tends to reveal it all as a transparent, shimmering facade.

Because really, in some way that’s impossible for me to explain or show outside of the experiencing of it, everything is all connected to everything else. Truly. Deeply. All the things we do in denial, or ignorance, or in spite of, this connectedness — all the insanity, the delusion, is the real reason for human suffering and ecosystem destruction, the real reason for all the fucked-uped-ness of this world.

Thus the great, egregious monstrosity that is American Empire and all that entails is built on the foundation of the monstrous way that human have constructed “civilization” on top of the ruins of billions of lives, and that edifice itself is built on the notion that each individual human is somehow discrete. Separate. Disconnected.

Until we find ways to help everyone heal from that profound disconnect, born in the illusion that “I” am a real, discrete separate individual and what I do only affects, we will go on making war on ourselves, on the rest of life, and on the entire inanimate cosmos.

Charles Eisenstein lays out this case much better than I, and in a recent essay – Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy – makes a brilliant argument that the implications of all this are that our energies are better directed toward the development of love for the world and action at local levels than great political or even environmental battles.

It’s in those experiences of love for the particulars of the world that we know the truth about the whole of the cosmos, he argues, and only in those kinds of “seeing” do we come to understand the connection we have lost. Feeling those losses, rather than following some set of rules or beliefs, is what can motivate and guide us to authentic action.

He says:

If everyone focused their love, care, and commitment on protecting and regenerating their local places, while respecting the local places of others, then a side effect would be the resolution of the climate crisis. If we strove to restore every estuary, every forest, every wetlands, every piece of damaged and desertified land, every coral reef, every lake, and every mountain, not only would most drilling, fracking, and pipelining have to stop, but the biosphere would become far more resilient too.

—- Charles Eisenstein – Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy

 

Trumpism = More of the Same…

After Nixon defeated McGovern in ’68 or whenever that was, James Taylor said that Nixon won because “he offered the American people a lie, a fairy tale of what life is really like, that America could continue living the way they have been, that our society is valid, that for all practical purposes the point of view of the average American citizen is true, when just the opposite is the case.”

Seems a lot of people still want to believe that lie. People want to believe that individualism, competition, consumption, empire-building, war, reductionist pseudo-science – on and on, are true and valid ways to be a people in the world today, when, as James says, just the opposite it true.

Coal Karma

There is a certain degree of karmic fruiting involved in the whole threat of toxic coal ash dumping in this little southern community.

I say this with trepidation and apologies to friends and neighbors involved, as I don’t mean to make light of the threat or the struggle to prevent it, but only to put it in the larger context. And certainly I’m not saying it in the sense that this county, this community, has done something to specifically deserve this fate. (Though our leaders could have been more astute!)

No, the choice of spots to dump on is pretty random in the rolling engine of destruction, the Leviathan that is big-coal/big-utility/big-disposal.

In the bigger picture, however, the cultural context of late-stage capitalism in the U.S., we all have brought this on ourselves, gorging ourselves on the material world without thought of the consequences for the past several centuries. In a capitalist system ruled by profit, if we want cheap energy for the vast array of “labor-saving devices”, entertainment, recreation, travel, business – and all in air-conditioned comfort – then we must burn coal, split atoms, dam rivers, drill and mine. All those things that are insult to the Earth and anathema to life.

Why have we done this?

As Ta-Nehisi Coates explains in his recent work Between the World and Me, [see my post], the same mentality that created and perpetuated the plunder of colonialism, slavery, and racism is behind our current ecological crisis:

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of human beings but the body of the Earth itself.” [p. 150]

In another post, I noted:

Both [Coates and James Baldwin] maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

So this threat of toxic destruction looming over small rural communities throughout the southern U.S. could be seen as the ultimate karmic retribution for our sins of racism, consumerism, plunder.

I believe that only as we can rise above these past divisions and join together will we be able to avoid this immediate threat and the long-term threat our way of life poses to life on the planet.

Related posts:

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/30/the-fire-next-time/

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/18/as-though-she-were-normal/

https://shunyatasapprentice.com/2015/09/29/on-between-the-world-and-me/

No Coal Ash – ANYWHERE!

Janisse Ray, my friend and a writer and an activist whom I consider a national treasure, has written a powerful essay, “From Ashes Such as These, What can Rise?”, about the attempt by waste disposal giant Republic Services to use the regional landfill here in Wayne County as a coal ash dump.

In exposing the depths of the corrupt machinations and big money behind this attempt, her article reveals much more than a poor county with challenged local governance being exploited by a powerful corporation. And it reveals more than just the fact that Big Coal and Big Power and Big Money don’t give a rip about rural America.

Both of which are certainly true and truly revealed in her article.

Her article also shows what can happen when a community decides to speak up in its own behalf. And how difficult it can be to win against the Big Boys – even when everyone, or apparently nearly everyone, is opposed to them. It shows the true horrors that coal in every aspect of its life (other than deep underground where it belongs) poses for us.

But Janisse goes beyond all that, ranging deep and wide in the essay, showing how much love for the natural world – and how much intelligence – lives in these people in the Deep South, and what it is that we really stand to lose here. She buries the knife deep in our hearts with personal stories of what we’ve already lost in rural life, and makes a passionate cry for the salvation of the South, for the resurgence of rural America.

This is an essay that needs to be read widely in America today, because though we poor rural communities in the South are prime targets, we are not alone. Everyone is vulnerable and likely to be victimized in this game.

But there’s a deeper reason we all need to read this essay. A deeper reason we need to consider this whole issue… deeply.

Us vs. Them

I awoke in the middle of the night – which is not so unusual for me, but this night, I could not stop thinking about coal ash, the death of the flatlands, and the arrogance of power that we face; this little story playing out in our tiny, poor county is really the whole story. The big story. The Old Story. The story of an industrial/post-industrial/post-post-industrial world gone rogue.

Yes, we are engaged in a penultimate battle here in Wayne County: Us, the rural community, vs. Them, the life-destroying Agents of Death — Big Coal, Big Power, Big Waste. Corporate America.

That’s how the battle lines are drawn. And that is a battle we can only lose.

We face accusations of selfish, NIMBY-style hypocrisy in this fight, perhaps justly, because we all enjoy the lifestyle, the products, the ease that cheap energy provides. And someone has to pay the price.

So – if we only win that battle, a win that simply forces Them to dump their poison “somewhere else”, then it will be a hollow victory.

Yes, on this immediate issue, the dumping of toxic waste in our landfill, we need to win. And By Whatever Means Necessary. Because there is truly more at stake here than our own comfort. Ecosystems, aquifers, the biosphere. A lot. Ultimately, this is a battle in the War for the survival of human life on this planet.

So in truth, we are bound by moral decency and our common humanity to oppose coal ash. We are bound because coal ash is where it all ends up. Someone, somewhere has to stand up and say, “No more.” If we can do that, and by it inspire the other target communities across the land to stand up and refuse to accept coal ash, what will Big Energy do?

If that happens, eventually, the truth will dawn on everyone that we just can’t keep making coal ash. If there’s nowhere to put it safely, then we just must stop digging coal out of the ground and burning it. That may mean we have to pay more for our electricity. It may mean we must reduce our consumption of energy.

In fact, it clearly does mean we must reduce our consumption of everything.

Aye, and there’s the rub.

So, in the long run, the battle is Us vs. Us.

If we can see through all the layers of pain, confusion and anger that cloud it, then that is a battle we could win. In fact, that is the War, the War for human survival, and it can be won only by realizing that it’s Us vs. Us, transcending the formulation that demonizes those ‘others’ and lays all the blame on them for this situation.

It’s Us, the Georgia Power/Southern Company customers who love our cheap power, it’s Us, consumers across America, across the continent and around the world, who are responsible for the existence of this coal ash, and only as we realize this and confront our own complicity, our own addictions to power, to ease, to comfort, to self will the causes for this War cease.

Gate Gate…

Gate Gate, ParaGate, ParasamGate, Bodhi Svaha.

Doing the dharani this morning during my meditation. A nice round of 108 of those does wonders for one’s stress level. Which I was definitely needing this morning.

The chanting and a few capsules of “Calm the Bitch” and I’m feeling much better! Ah, yes, that’s an herbal blend with an inappropriate name, perhaps, but an effective blend and a perfectly descriptive name!

Not sure exactly what’s in it as it’s a personal blend from our friend Hsin-Hsin, a Chinese Medicine practitioner who manages the herbal pharmacy at East-West College of Natural Medicine. One of her students gave it the name after discovering its power to calm anger and relieve stress. Mostly citrus and a little He Huang Pi (Collective Happiness bark), I think.

But, back to the chanting. It’s the dharani from the Heart Sutra, one I’ve been chanting for nearly 30 years now. Its literal meaning, if such can be assigned to a dharani, is something like: “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond. Enlightenment be praised.” Some English versions include the phrases “gone to the other shore” and “having never left.”

Its real meaning is more in the sound of it than the words, and that sound can be transcendent. Especially if one is immersed in the Heart Sutra itself. But that’s way beyond the scope of this blog entry! Red Pine has a great book on the sutra if you’re interested.

Chanting dharanis or mantras is not something I do much of. It is more like medicine to me than a practice. I use it often when driving to help with the stress of that situation. I don’t think a practice built on daily chanting has the power to bring the kind of liberation, deep and wide liberation, that I see a true meditation practice as capable of bringing. I could be wrong about that, but it seems so to me.

I needed its medicine today, though.

Life has been rather loaded with stress, even anger, lately. I find that dealing with the stress via meditation and herbs is better than living in denial or escape. Much of the social malaise which plagues us nowadays could be laid at the feet of a public who would rather ignore, escape from, or deny social problems.

Much of my stress comes from the deeply sad, wounded nature of the world today. Though I live in this quiet, lovely community, word seeps in of the incomprehensible terror and pain that so many in our world, our sweet and beautiful world, live in. So many of my fellow beings, human and otherwise, find their daily lives surrounded by a hostile world of greed, anger and delusion, a world where these three poisons are taking human form in monstrous ways….

Monstrous ways that seem to threaten the very lives of all of us on so many levels. If it is true, as some propose, that we humans have developed to be the means by which this planet or even the entire cosmos is self-aware, then we are sensitive to all this pain and agony to good purpose. Which is why I think it’s better not to hide from or deny these realities. But it can be unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

This stress can impact our lives and relationships in many ways. The most difficult thing for me, in trying to live a meditation-based life, is that I find myself in a near-constant state of frustration that cascades into irritation and anger, with an occasional outburst leading to more stress and unpleasant, hurtful feelings for ones I love.

A recent outburst and the fallout from that is a big part of my current need for stress medication! Things are improving greatly today, but the last few days were — well, not so good.

The positive side – the “wisdom side” as the Tibetans say – of this experience has been that it shows me once again how important it is to be consistent and deep and real in my meditation practice. My first Zen teacher always said that his teacher said, “One hour or meditation, one hour of enlightenment.”

Keep sitting.

Or, as that great philosopher Dave Mason said long ago, “Can’t stop worrying about the things we do. Can’t stop loving, without it nothing would seem true.”