The Zen of Forgetting

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

— Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

I met this week’s guest-blogger, Cassy Soden, at Elk Plain Elementary School–when I was eight years old. Though it wasn’t until after college we grew close, we had worked together on Bravetalk, the high school newspaper. We played basketball on the same team at Bethel Junior High. Tomorrow is Cassy’s birthday! Though I’d love to be up in Seattle eating sushi with her at her celebration, publishing her story on L.I.T. is the next best.

Cassy Soden is a multimedia producer, writer, and story strategist. A story maven and student of the art of storytelling, her focus is to document and tell stories that reflect people’s inspiring passions. She seeks to make known stories that create learning opportunities, encourage positive change, and deepen cultural understanding.

I hope you will enjoy the personal and powerful post and poetry she has written for us. You will find an invitation, too–in her conclusion. I appreciate so much that she has offered to share this experience with us, an experience that will certainly touch many lives.

DSC03150BloomMarch stirs with rain, wind, and glimpses of the sun. It is a time when the wet Northwest blooms and vibrant colors pop against gray skies. It is against this backdrop that for many years my dad and I celebrated our birthdays with a communal cake. I remember wishing him a happy half-century birthday. Now, on the dawn of this same age, it is so strange to be here myself, my father’s life a lesson carved into my heart.

Two years ago instead of a birthday celebration we held a memorial service for my dad, Terry. In attendance was a special person, Penny, who knew my dad for only a short time but had become an important lifeline and ally in the final years of his life. Continue reading “The Zen of Forgetting”

Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World

 “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 

Strength testing results say Edan's strong and ready for bone marrow transplant
Strength testing results say Edan’s strong and ready for bone marrow

Sometimes the internet, the interstates, airplanes and the speed of life leave us to feel disconnected.

Yet, my sister tells me they now have a milkman–delivering fresh cow’s milk to their doorstep.

In our urban backyard, kale, chard, lettuce and beets continue to feed us, even in March. Maybe this summer we’ll pluck blueberries off the vine. The neighbors grow their own vegetable garden–and invite us to pick figs from their trees.

The internet, fast trains, and certainly being able to type these thoughts on a computer rather than using the typewriter I took to college make a lot of life work way better.

And, when a child is born premature or with complications– like Amy’s son, Oriana’s granddaughter–or a little boy is diagnosed with cancer when he is only four years old–chances of survival are amazingly improved from back when any of us reading these words first took a breath.

In 2012, Edan Owen was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to him and to appreciating today’s world, its advances in medicine and how the speed of life provides its reward. Continue reading “Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World”

The Way We Make Our Lives: Kathleen Benz Soon to Retreat

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Carl Gustav Jung

 

K. Benz

Last year, at the beginning of 2014, I decided it was time to search out–or simply notice–people doing cool things in the world and write their stories. “Cool” is relative, of course. What’s “cool” to one person is “absurd” or “crazy”–or maybe even a pure waste of time to another. I’m pretty sure some of you will find the story of Kathleen Benz puzzling while others of you will be inspiring and wonder “What would that be like? To spend three years cloistered, without any responsibility other than to develop insight and compassion?”

Last year I also began writing articles for a local newsletter once in a while–highlighting people and activities of a local Buddhist organization. So, it only makes sense to merge these two “platforms” once in a while. Since I’m rather new to hanging out with the Tibetan Buddhists at KCC in Portland–and some of these folk have known each other for decades–writing stories has given me a chance to ask questions and get to know people in a way I wouldn’t otherwise.

Lucky me! Continue reading “The Way We Make Our Lives: Kathleen Benz Soon to Retreat”

Brooke Hall’s Leap Into the Wilderness

 “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing

when no one else is watching

– even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

Aldo Leopold, 1887-1948

Ecologist & author of A Sand County Almanac

 

20140621_183222_AndroidMy interest in the outdoors started when I was horseback riding as a child,” says Brooke Hall, now a Naturalist teaching children survival skills, ethnobotany, bird language, primitive crafts and wildlife tracking.

“Some of my favorite memories of riding are through fields outside of San Antonio–finding a swarm of bees in a tree, or encountering a rattle snake on a road. In New Hampshire, I remember being bundled up on chilly fall days, following trails amongst the colorful fall trees.”

Brooke says she did lots of exploring and loved being outside with the horses and all of the hard physical work that went along with the sport. “I loved being covered in hay, dirt, horse hair, and sweat.”

Though her parents aren’t outdoorsy types, they supported their only child to do what she loved.

Riding taught her how to jump into things and not be afraid to get dirty.

“I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to cover myself in mud and crawl around on the forest floor practicing native scout skills this year if I hadn’t had those early experiences.”

Brooke spent nine months as a student in the Wilderness Awareness School’s Anake Outdoor School–about 30 miles northeast of Seattle. She learned to track wolves, build fire from friction Continue reading “Brooke Hall’s Leap Into the Wilderness”

John Fox, Poetic Medicine & the Art of Listening

“Wherever I can find a place to sit down and write, that is my home.”

Mary TallMountain

John Fox
John Fox at Gleann Cholm Cille in Ireland

At Groiler’s, the one-room poetry bookstore in Harvard Square, back in 1996, I bought a copy of Finding What You Didn’t Lose— John Fox’s first book, subtitled, “Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making.”

“It’s important to be a witness and to be present to someone so they can edge out a little, then a little more. If I can be without judgment–or at least not show it–people feel safe,” he tells me.

It would be almost two decades before I would meet this kind listener, poet and poetry-therapist, though I thumbed through the chapters year-by-year–always a believer: Writing can heal. Writing does heal.

In the English 101 courses I taught for almost 20 years, I saw it happening. In essays students wrote week-by-week, journals they kept, conversations we shared, the world shifted.

Students  learned about themselves, writing words on the page. And we read poetry aloud and talked and wrote in response. They–and I, too–made connections and discovered possibilities for our lives. It was fun, and some who had recoiled in the beginning opened with the poetry.

From a young age, John knew he was a writer. Planning to study poetry with Ann Sexton and George Starbuck, he went to Boston University. Sexton would leave before her time, of course, and eventually John would transfer to Bard College. He continued his studies of literature though never called to deep-academia–earning a Ph.D. or publishing scholarly articles about Renaissance-men. He memorized Blake, Yeats, Ezra Pound and began exploring his spirituality with the likes of Ram Dass, later Stephen Levine, and he would eventually meet Joy Shieman–a poetry therapist Continue reading “John Fox, Poetic Medicine & the Art of Listening”

Celebrating Education for All–and Tomato Starts

 “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.”

Plutarch (from Ian Kidd’s translation of Essays)

IMG_20140329_113828
Oregon Food Bank Learning Garden

A couple of Saturdays ago I spent three hours potting tomato starts in the greenhouse at the Oregon Food Bank’s Learning Garden. That’s when David, one of the volunteers, talked about a Modern Poetry class he’d taken through Coursera. Everyone else potting tomatoes that morning seemed to know about this online platform where anyone can “Take the world’s best courses online for free!” — says their motto.

Coursera–not the first in the MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) movement–started in 2012 with Stanford University, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania as partners. Today Coursera partners with 108 institutions in 641 countries–and has 7.1 million users worldwide (Wikipedia).

A couple of professors from Stanford University, Daphne Koller  and Andrew Ng, started Coursera: They hoped to offer high-quality learning communities where students could pursue life-long learning from top-notch instructors.
After my morning in the OFB greenhouse, I decided to catch up with the world and see what I might like to learn. Though I wasn’t looking to start immediately, I found a course I couldn’t resist: “Understanding the Brain: The Neurology of Everyday Life.” courseraindexForever I’ve wanted to learn more about how the brain works.

Recent discoveries of brain plasticity fascinate me, and I’ve been intrigued by the work of Jon Kabit-Zinn and Rick Hanson, and have wanted to learn more about pain and the nervous system. Since I survived a brain tumor as a kid, I’ve always wondered what goes wrong–and how the brain recovers.

I decided to jump in. Continue reading “Celebrating Education for All–and Tomato Starts”

Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call

 “Bless those who challenge us for they remind us of doors we have closed and doors we have yet to open.”

Native American Prayer

 

Tjessica-chanayhis week I want to tell you more about a woman I mentioned in the post about the documentary,  A Place at the Table: Jessica Chanay, Deputy Director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, has worked in the “anti-hunger field” for 14 years–but she’ll soon be moving in a new direction.

On June 10, Jessica will begin a training with Teach for America, and by September she’ll be teaching social studies to kids in Detroit.

“I want to find out what else I’m made of,” says Jessica, smiling. As she approached 50, she began to reflect on her life and on the idea of comfort. “It’s not that I want to be uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be asleep at the wheel.”

Jessica was a kid who dropped out of school early, joined the service and then found herself struggling to feed two kids. Now she hopes to be a positive presence for students, a guide for those who might be  struggling to keep themselves going strong.

OregonHungerTaskForce 3“I want to be part of the movement of creating a support structure for kids.”

She says she doesn’t feel that she is leaving the social justice field, only changing focus. And she’s not someone who’s trying to be a hero either. As we talk I think these kids–and the colleagues she touches–will be fortunate. She listens. She’s curious.

The thing about her is that she’s “been there” when it comes to struggle. She knows what it’s like to drop out of school, and she knows what it’s like to walk into the welfare office and file for Food Stamps, meet a different case worker rather frequently, and feel that people are looking at you as if you aren’t as good as they are. Continue reading “Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call”

A Plate at the Table: There’s Enough Food for All

The poster for the documentary A Place At The Table. Let us be united

Let us speak in harmony;

Let our minds apprehend alike.

Common be our prayer;

Common be the end of our assembly;

Common be our resolution;

Common be our deliberations.

Alike be our feelings;

Unified be our hearts;

Common be our intentions;

Perfect be our unity.

FROM THE RIG VEDA

 

What’s “inspiring” about the film A Place at the Table–a documentary about poverty and hunger, a film calling us to action in regards to a lack of nutrition for one in four kids in the USA?

I saw it last weekfeaturing actor Jeff Bridges, Ph.Ds, social workers, and ordinary people struggling to feed their children–or attend school without feeling hungry.

This film shows that “being hungry” doesn’t always look like the protruding bellies we’ve seen on television, children from sub-Sahara Africa or Bangladesh. There is hunger nearby, and it’s often kept hidden because people feel ashamed. Hunger in the USA often occurs at the end of the month, and obesity often results from poor nutrition.

Not only is it upsetting to know people go hungry in our wealthy country, but when kids don’t get enough nutritious food at a young age, their cognitive abilities are damaged. Continue reading “A Plate at the Table: There’s Enough Food for All”

As Long As It Takes — a poem

“They always say that time changes things,

but you actually have to change them yourself.”

— Andy Warhol

As Long As It Takes

Frogs 2 not listening
Coming next blog: Meet a passionate frogger–but not the sort who spears anything:  Dedicated to leading Amphibian Surveys, Ann Kastberg’s enthusiasm gets people out and into the wonder.

As long as it takes
As long as voices need to speak
As long as people feel unheard
As long as someone’s history
lies buried under other’s dreams
As long as someone in the room keeps moving
won’t pause or open eyes
to see us waiting
As long as some in the room stand in charge
make demands
without listening to raised hands
As long as Russia wants and wants
and the USA, too, and soil
blows into dust
and muscles in the young man’s arm
fail to move Continue reading “As Long As It Takes — a poem”

Donna Roy: Following a Thread

 

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

 

Donna's return-visit to Korea, in front of Palace
Donna’s return-visit to Korea, in front of Palace

Though Donna Roy grew up Catholic on a farm in Maine, from a young age she felt there must be more than a single way to view life.

“People do it differently all over the world,” she thought. “‘All those babies in China are not going to go to hell just because they haven’t been baptized,’ I can remember thinking–and I would cry at night sometimes.”

This gentle, inclusive view has informed Donna’s work in Korea and Bangladesh with locals, from coast to coast in the United States supporting newly-arrived refugees, and now as a therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon.

At age 10, Donna heard John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?”

“That’s when I decided to someday join the Peace Corp.” That’s also when she began to dream of becoming a doctor, traveling the world and helping people. Continue reading “Donna Roy: Following a Thread”