Monday, October 31

Halloween in Auschwitz

I couldn't tell if my chills were from the cold or the spirit of this place. The souls of the dead wandering this land. What these trees saw, empty of bark and leaves from their hunger...

As they turned off the lights in the gas chamber and I called out for Fleet. For comfort. I called out for the only person I knew. But I was not dying. We were not preparing for the Cyclon B.

Yes, we were stuffed in there, yes. No light and not knowing, but we weren't preparing for those tiny tin cans to be dropped in.

As we followed the setting sun, and walked out of those gates, beyond the double fenced, formally electrified barbed wire, I discovered a whole new perspective and appreciation for the thing we call life...

What Rose From the Ash of Oswiecim

Here we are...lining up waiting for the buses. I can't help but note how here we wait in a fashion similar to those who waited  for the trains to Auschwitz.

Halloween morning 8:22 AM 2011.

Train after train after train transporting humans. Imagine, your younger brother who wants to be just like you, your older sister who tells you your going to make an amazing dad, your favorite aunt who takes you and your friends to cool places, the uncle who bought you a football for your birthday, your tenderhearted grandmother, frail and old now - YOU.

As we drive towards the west, moving closer and closer towards the resting place of too many. A place of burning flesh. Pillows made out of human hair.

How could one know such things?

Every time the bus driver lets up his feet off the pedal, my heart drops a little in anticipation of our arrival.

They thought they were going to a new home. Little did they know that home would be a crematorium.

And just as we arrive at the Center for Peace and Dialogue, here to welcome us are the crows, drops of rain and moving passenger trains

Sunday, October 30

Chairs on a Square

I'm really not quite sure what to make of it all

Today was one of those days that start really early and end pretty late. One in which your gone all day long, touring the ghettos of a forgotten people. A unfathomable time.

16 of us sitting there in the low chairs on the Plac Bohaterow Getta Square of Krakow, wondering, waiting. We sat there unintentionally holding in our hearts, one of the first tenants the Zen Peacemaker teach: Bearing Witness. We had no idea that this square was a holding place for Jewish people on their way to concentration and extermination camps. We didn't know that these chairs were created by artists to symbolize their waiting for those trains to take them away.

We didn't know, just as they didn't know, what we were waiting on an explanation for. And when we finally found out, we felt our hearts drop a little deeper. And as we walked away, with a slower pace then before, deeper into the Jewish Ghetto, our minds could not comprehend how something like this could happen. How did this happen?!

Tomorrow we head to Auschwitz. It feels quite strange to say that. I feel a bit off to be making the conscious choice to head to such a place. Over a million people had their lives stolen from them at Auschwitz, over a million.

And here we go: tonight we sleep, tomorrow we drive.

Many say October 31st is the day of the year that the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. Bernie Glassman has us go for many reasons, but one of them is to be with the souls of those who are still there. I can't even begin to imagine what I'll feel tomorrow at this time.

I suppose this piece of writing is an ode to that tenant of Not Knowing...

Saturday, October 29

Opening to Basic Goodness

Last night I got the chance to listen to Fleet Maull give a talk titled "Beyond Cynicism: Personal and societal Meaning of Meditation."

I got to say, this whole concept of basic goodness is not one that comes easily to this conditioned mind of mine (as I'm sure is true for many of us with those same conditioned minds!) Yet, sitting there last night I saw something different. I saw something of possibility open. I saw that we, as humans, have the distinct ability to feel and that ability to feel allows us to open to all the beauty and pain in our lives. I heard that, just like me, even the most "hardened" of criminals can enjoy a setting a sun. I'm willing to bet there is not one human alive who does not enjoy a delicious meal. And after listening to Fleet speak about this universality of our experience as a human, I'm willing to sit with the possibility that not only us as individuals, but us all, as a collective, can and will create the world of basic goodness.

As the moments of our time at Auschwitz crawl closer to being, I am working to maintain a sense of Basic Goodness, even in the face of such horrors. Of genocide.

I'll leave you with some words of wisdom Fleet said to me on the way to Moran (the medium security prison we volunteer and teach mindfulness in).
I said to Fleet, "I'm not really sure I really believe in this whole basic goodness of society."  I wanted, so desperately, to believe in this and was looking for someone to convince my doubting mind. His response to me was "If we don't believe in the basic goodness of society, how will anyone else?"

That was a perfect answer. He is right. Basic Goodness has to start here at home.

Thursday, October 27

Baby Steps Towards Auschwitz

Its that kind of rain that finds the lenses on your glasses, but for some reason you don't take them off.

As we past exit 27 Downtown Pawtucket, I remember crossing those streets. One left turn and we're back on 95 North. Sometimes its a shock to see Mr. USA still kicking with his Red White and Blue. that's my hometown. Yep. Pawtucket, RI. And this is someone called 'me-on-my-way-past-the-fog-on-these-windows.' now, all just a memory left behind.

I see construction. And yes, there are many kinds - this one is related to taking something down to the level deeper then foundation and beginning again. Like in each and every moment that are our lives. Its just one simple detour after another. Life that is. And I'm learning this as we make our way towards Boston Logan Airport.

I'm not getting off the exit towards my childhood home. Or the exit towards my the place that held me during my time as a "wayward youth."
I'm not taking that exit towards Collette Vacations this time either, a place I sought refuge in as a young girl to get brochures and dream of other places.

Nope. This woman is on her way towards Poland. Awake. Towards Auschwitz. Open. Towards the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp that gassed and burned the bodies of just over a million human beings between the years of 1940-1945. 

I'm heading towards the place that was designated as the "Final solution of the Jewish question in Europe" with nothing else in my bag to read, but the words of viktor frankl in his 'Man's Search for Meaning.'

Sitting now in Boston Logan Airport waiting to depart to Munich, I'm holding the only things that I can: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Loving Action. Somehow, I'm trusting that these 3 tenants will be the only thing to trust as I take this plunge into a journey of a lifetime.

So then it begins...

Tuesday, October 11

Drums of Hope: Reflections on Metta Meditation from the Inside

As I sit here, listening simultaneously to Richard recite "May all beings be happy, May all beings be safe, May all beings be safe, May all beings be peaceful, May all beings be at ease..." and men in the next concrete room over sing and drum, I feel my body open - even in the midst of a room full of men, some of which have raped my sisters, some of which have killed my brothers, some of which have stolen from each other - and yet here I sit: open. Tears filling my eyes and hope filing my heart. Here we all are, in this moment, being kind to each other. Being kind to ourselves. Together. As one. Together as one under these florescent lights we're more whole. Together.

And as I walk past the shiny razor wire fence, I wonder to myself "Here, there, anywhere, is there really any other way?"

Monday, October 10

Waking Up From the American Dream

As I walked back into my place in providence, I was flooded with expectation of how to bring what i just saw, felt, tasted and touched back with me to the world I know here.

while joining the masses at occupy wallstreet in zuccotti park in downtown lower Manhattan, I had one question in mind "how do we keep this grassroots momentum moving?"

As i lay in the tub, bathing off the dirt and dust of the city, I realized I'm already doing it. I was simply doing it by being there. By being here. By being.

When i first got wind of the growing occupy wall street movement, I felt excitement for what this could mean. I began to feel something in my bones reawaken. Something that has been a bit afraid to surface since I began walking down the Buddhist path several years ago.

before i had a practice steeped and infused in this tradition of compassion and kindness, I was an angry activist. A very angry activist with a very specific agenda.

There I was, yelling at the Buddhist folk sitting and meditating "get off your asses, get up and do something." and by something, I meant "do something that really pisses off the 'them', stand up against the police state."

I was angry and I didn't know how to funnel my anger towards something healthy, towards something inclusive, towards something fertile.
The toxins of separation was the value system i nourished then.
In my world, i was either going to die or end up in prison for my beliefs.
not only that, but anyone who stood outside of those commitments were not 'real' activists, they were not truly committed to revolution.

flash forward three years, two cities and a stint at zen center later, and there you'd find me: meditating, in lower Manhattan at zuccotti park, with the same folks i would have been calling on, just a few short years before, to join us in our misdirected anger towards the police.
towards the state.
towards ourselves.

As i sat there, at occupy wall street, in front of an alter with the offerings of those who came before me, tears streaming down my face, goose bumps occupying my body like they long to do, i felt more productive than i ever had at any of the protests from my past.

as I bowed to the myriad deities sitting on that alter, moving into walking meditation as i made my way thru the crowds, i discovered that the American dream is not the only one one waking up.
I stumbled upon the truth that we don't need to smash burger king windows to dismantle the system of oppression.
I opened to that anger i felt in my past and saw it was simply an energy that longed for liberation.
i realized that emma goldman was right when she said “If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution.”
i woke up to the notion that to occupy a place -
to infuse it with kindness, consideration and deep love for all -
is the place where liberation truly occurs
whether in our minds, or in our streets.
I saw that there really is no separation - That his story is connected to her story is connected to their story is connected to the whole. i realized there is no story...there is just this. and us.
I realized that 'occupy wallstreet' is a reflection of our ever expanding hearts, our ever deepening concern for all
...even that 1% we're calling on for accountability...

I realized that THIS is our movement. That THIS is our heart. That THIS is our time...

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha: gone, gone, gone to the other shore, very well gone

Here's to our future...

...And our past

 And our present...