Buddhist thought

Why I Love Activists / Activism

** Pre-Script: I’ve dredged this one up out of the files, as it were. Wrote it back last fall, soon after the steam generator hearing in Ottawa, but never got around to posting it. I’m feeling so … knocked on my butt right now, in these days immediately following the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, & during the ongoing nuclear crisis, that I don’t seem to be able to write anything new. So I was kind of glad to run across this in the computer. It will have to do for now…

<Oct. 7/10.>

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) & the proposed steam generator shipment(s). I was digging through my notebook & came across the notes I’d made on June 25 (2010) at the Massey Hall ‘Shout Out for Global Justice’ event on G20 weekend [G20 Protests in Toronto].

That was a fabulous event, with outstanding talks by outstanding activists Vandana Shiva, Amy Goodman, Leo Gerard, John Hilary, Naomi Klein, Pablo Solon, Clayton Thomas-Muller, Maude Barlowe & David Coles. Their speeches can be found here


(& this after having been only 2 weeks before to the to-die-for line-up of awesome speakers at the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) conference in Washington, D.C. Yowsa!!)

I really do like hanging out with people who tell the truth. Who are sincere.

Who are also really intelligent, & thoughtful, & who often seem to have more integrity in their little fingers than some… some… (trying very hard to be polite here) some … corporate/government types have in their entire bodies/corporations/bureaucracies/organizations.

  • Intelligence
  • Integrity
  • Intention

I, I, I!! (As in, Ai yi yi!)

It is so much more fun hanging out with people who stand for something than with people who’d fall for anything. Especially mere money.

If you would like to have more plain old fun in your life, I suggest you pick an issue about which you feel passionate (only about a zillion to choose from, hmmm?) – & get off your butt!

I can’t promise you you will love to pieces every single activist you’ll encounter. You’ll find all the negative human traits among activists that you see anywhere else – even, sometimes, too much ego. We are merely human, after all! (In the Elizabeth Lesser/Wavy Gravy lingo, we are all just “bozos on the bus,” hmmm?)

But I can also tell you this:

In the 21 years I’ve been involved in environmental activism, I’ve met the most genuinely awesome individuals I could ever possibly have hoped to meet. I really, really have.

And I’ve had – am still having – a blast!

Gotta love that, eh??


p.s. I hear a lot of “What can one person do?” & “You can’t fight City Hall” & all that kind of nonsense. It’s quite clearly nonsense, because you only have to look around you, & look at human history, to see that it has always been people willing to act who have made things change. Slavery. Segregation. Environmental destruction of all kinds. What has ever changed these things besides people who choose to act? Come on, folks!

There is also some fallacy about being guaranteed some kind of result. A specific outcome. Some of my friends are remarking now on some outcomes they see in the world that they feel I’ve helped bring about. And they’re right – I did help bring them about! (e.g. pesticide by-laws is one key example.) But I wasn’t given any kind of guarantee when I did the work that there would be some kind of “success” or outcome. I knew that there would only be a positive outcome if I did help do the work. (Bit of a chicken & egg scenario, hmmm?) Plus, & unavoidably, whatever I did, I did as one little worker bee in a whole beehive full of other worker bees. 'Cos that’s how it works!

I’ve long found Buddhist thought to be extremely helpful & inspiring. One small string of it suggests that we do what we do – we do what feels right in the moment – & we do not concern ourselves with outcome. So we make the generous gestures, & the apologies, & give money to people on the street, & so on & so on & so on. We work for pesticide by-laws; or toward a zero waste society; or to have our culture use alternative, renewable & sustainable forms of energy; or take part in the movement for sustainable local, organic food systems – & we don’t waste energy on the obstacles. We just fire ahead & do what very clearly feels like the right thing to do. The work is its own reward! I’ve said this on this blog so many times now I must sound like a broken record; activism is its own reward.

So don’t wait to jump in because you’re waiting for some kind of guarantee that you’re picking something that will pay off in a big way, real soon. Just get involved in an issue you feel passionate about. Working with seniors. Working with kids. An environmental issue (or three). Social justice issues. Take your pick, Reader! For sure, your energy is needed!!

And if you pick the wrong one, one that doesn’t make you feel good while you are doing the work, finish up the particular task you’re engaged in (it’s not very cool to make commitments you’re not going to keep), & then move on.

Go where the energy is. Your energy… (& when you add yours to that of other people's, you'll be amazed at the synergies that will result!!)

p.p.s. I wrote about why I figure I am an activist here

‘Quote for the day’ with this post: “A lot of people say, ‘What’s the point?’ That’s an excuse for inaction. I’d rather put a drop in the bucket than nothing at all, and every drop adds up.” ~ Jonathan Brock, on his work for Doctors Without Borders

Lotus Flowers Grow in the Mud

<Jan. 21/10>

I’ve known for some time now that wonderful things often grow out of seriously cruddy ones; in fact, come to think of it, maybe that’s what my “graduate work” (i.e., my adult life) has really been all about! I keep seeing over & over again how the most seemingly un-fertile & cruddy & horrible circumstances often lead to great growth & breakthroughs & learning.

I was on my lovely long walk today, joking to myself that I have apparently failed Relationships 101 through 501 – at least! And as I said to someone recently, I’ve surely earned a Ph.D. in Loneliness along the way. For sure, I've had my "fair share" of it.

But I also have Ph.D’s in Joy, Gratitude, Friendship & Adaptability. These more than compensate for the bad bouts of loneliness I occasionally suffer from.

My life hasn’t been (& isn’t) much like the lives of most of the people I know. Mine has more change, less predictability, probably more adventure & freedom – & maybe a similar amount of angst?? (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have angst. We all have our fears & hopes, frustrations & pain, disappointments & losses… & loneliness.)

I’ve been poking my nose lately in a very lovely book called Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, by Joan Halifax. She shares many, many pearls of insight & wisdom.

She points out that “the roots of the pure white lotus are buried deep in the pond’s dark mud,” & that the mud “nurtures and feeds the lotus, making it possible for the flower to open in splendor to the sun.”

Isn’t that a beautiful (& comforting) image?

Mud & muck make things grow. Certainly lots of the grand adventures & fun I’ve had in, oh, the past 14 years or so, arrived after a pretty dark time in a very muddy swamp. Of course I had to take a little time to haul my arse over to the side of the swamp before any… hmmm...that isn’t true. Even in the very middle of the swamp(s), I took (& take) quite a bit of joy in some things – small things & “bigger” ones too.

Well. I guess everything is really all mixed up together, isn’t it? The “good” things & the “bad” things. It’s all a great big beautiful messy stew.

I know it’s going to be a comfort to remind myself often, lotus flowers actually grow out of mud.


P.S. You’d be wise to pick up a copy of Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, if you yourself are dealing with dying.

P.P.S. As I’ve mentioned in other essays, I find Buddhist thought very helpful & inspiring. If I were a little more practiced at it, I would never even use the terminology of “wonderful” things & “cruddy” ones. There really isn’t a need to judge things. They just are as they are…as the Buddhists say. But I think most readers probably understand quite well what I mean…

P.P.P.S. Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser, is, of course, another great book to read on this topic. I’ve mentioned this wonderful book in several blog posts. “Broken, or Broken Open?,”  "Lonely & Terrified: Just Another Bozo on the Bus" & "Permission to FEEL Our Feelings." Ms. Lesser is a real treasure...

P.S. # 4: A later blog posting called 'Lotus Flowers & Mud, take II' is here

'Quote of the Day' w. this post: “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Victor Frankl



Jumping to Conclusions; Judging Not

<August 14/09>

I occasionally muse on how much of our psychic energy we waste in always making mental judgments about this, that & the other thing. (Of course, I’m often as guilty of it as the next person…)

We leap to judgment constantly, without even skipping a beat.

I remember walking along a busy sidewalk one time & being caught behind a woman walking so slowly I felt certain she must surely be deliberately being a pain in the neck (after all, everything is all about me & my convenience, right?)

When I got past her, I discovered she was hugely pregnant, with a toddler walking in front of her. Then I felt pretty foolish for jumping to such a totally self-centred conclusion.

Another time, I had to rent a car to get to an event I was coordinating in a town an hour’s drive away. The only thing available was an SUV – a vehicle of which, as an environmentalist, I’m not overly fond. And I thought, “Yup. If someone judges me just because they saw me arrive in this vehicle, they won’t know how off the mark a snap judgment can be.”

Of course, Eckhart Tolle & the Buddhist writers are always reminding us to “be in the present moment,” & if we do our best to stay firmly planted in the present, there really isn’t psychic “room” for tons of opinions, judgments, resentments, inflexible plans, ideas, etc.

What brought this up for me this morning is this: I’m sitting at my corner table at my local coffee spot, which happens to overlook the drive-through lane.

I’ve been re-reading & editing some of my scribblings. I re-use paper in my printer, & when I turned one page over, discovered part of an article from the Utne Reader (November/December ’93 issue) I’d recently trimmed out of my files. It’s about pollution & environmental injustice, & there was the photo of a woman with her young son, born with most of his limbs missing as the result of her exposure to dangerous chemicals while picking grapes in California.

I started crying (I’m crying as I write this); what are we DOING on this planet??????

And then I thought, anyone who drives by & who knows me at all might assume I’m crying over my own personal “stuff” – & that would be a very inaccurate conclusion to jump to.

Note to self (& others, if they think it’s worthy advice): Let’s try to just be.

Be here now.

The Christian admonition to “Judge not, lest ye be judged” can also help.


p.s. I’m glad my tears are flowing a little more readily of late. This is a healthy thing, I think…

p.p.s. Joanna Macy has pointed out that all of our problems are mind-made. Eckhart Tolle emphasizes this too. He says we tend to have “noisy minds.” I’d hazard a guess that some of us have minds that are positively deafening. I know mine is often pretty goshdarn busy. Some things do help still it. Walking, sitting by the river, canoeing & singing really help keep me present. For many, yoga & meditation are invaluable for this…

p.p.p.s. I recall writing a little essay once in which I said, “Jumping to conclusions takes too much energy!” A useful thought, maybe…

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“When I pray, I ask for guidance in my life to be the best person I can be, to learn what I need to learn, and to grow from what I learn. Always when I pray, I ask to let go. Letting go is the hardest part.” Julia Butterfly Hill in The Legacy of Luna - The Story of a Tree, A Woman, & the Struggle to Save the Redwoods

At this point in history, the most radical, pervasive, and earth-shaking transformation would occur simply if everybody truly evolved to a mature, rational, and responsible ego, capable of freely participating in the open exchange of mutual self-esteem. Then, there would be a real New Age.” ~ Ken Wilber

“There is only one courage, and that is the courage to go on dying to the past. Not to collect it, not to accumulate it, not to cling to it. We all cling to the past, and because we cling to it we become unavailable to the present.” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

“The criteria for success: you are free, you live in the present moment, you are useful to the people around you, and you feel love for all humanity.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar


My New 10 Commandments (well, 14, actually…)

<July 10/09>

1. Inasmuch as possible, do your best not to ADD to the world’s pain.(1) 2. Do your very, very best never to USE people. 3. Do your best not to indulge in idle gossip & speculation. 4. Strive to always be the “Big You,” not the “little you.” 5. Eat organic. 6. Wash feet before bed (this one is easy). Teeth too, if at all possible. (This is harder, especially if one has chosen to consume a chocolate bar in bed.) 7. Learn to stop going down “bad roads.” (Infinitely, infinitely more challenging…) 8. Do your best never to be the slightest bit smug or self-satisfied; to feel superior at all, or somehow outside that roller coaster-y soap opera Life so often seems to consist of. We all have our role in the soap opera… 9. Say “Whatever!” a lot. (It really helps. So does “It is what it is.”) 10. Do lots of yoga and meditation; this is very, very good for us. (And when I finally start following my own good advice, I’ll find out for sure. Meanwhile, DO read Buddhist writers – & other writers who are honest, & funny, & compassionate, & self-deprecating & wise – because Buddhist ideals are really, really, really wonderful & useful, & habits of non-judgment & compassion will really take the human race (or even just me) a very long way – & besides, life doesn’t get any better than reading books by writers who make us laugh…& think…& who help us feel less alone, less broken.)

Note: I will probably find another one or two & eventually end up with at least a “baker’s dozen” of useful “commandments.” Watch for it!

And btw too, I’ll be sure to send up a flare when I finally run across someone who is perfect…okay?

Ah. Here we go…

11. Say THANK YOU as often as you possibly can. Be grateful (gratitude is magical). Kurt Vonnegut said in one of his final books that we should try to say, as often as possible, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!” 12. Whenever humanly possible, accept invitations from friends to walk/have coffee/lunch/supper/spend time at their cottage. Friends & family times are the very BEST times!! 13. Whenever humanly possible, hang laundry outside in the wind & sun. It’s pleasurable to hang it, enjoyable to watch it blowing on the line & awesome to smell when you take the clothes off the line later & fold them. Ahhhhhhh. Life’s simple pleasures… 14. Don’t forget to breathe


(1) Especially the pain of children. Could we PLEASE all stop being un-mindful of the innocent & wondrous & terribly vulnerable nature of children?? Our own, & everyone else’s? And do our very, very best to treat them well? All of them??

Julie Johnston of GreenHeart Education also feels very passionate about looking after children. Please check out her blog - her Compassionate Climate Action blog. She has some great stuff there about why climate change - & children - should be motivating us ALL to do a whole lot more. It's here...

What We Focus On, Expands…

<Sept. 2006>

I’ve had an “Aha!” moment this morning, and I want to pass it on, because I think it’s potentially pretty useful.

In a workshop I attended a couple of years ago, the powerhouse of a woman who was leading it said casually, “What we focus on, expands.”

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve written about it elsewhere, but somehow, this morning, I feel as though I REALLY got it…finally…right in my guts. We can grasp things in an intellectual sort of way, but until they grab us by the entrails, as it were, we don’t really “get” them, do we?

It’s largely a timing issue, no doubt. It’s clicking for me in a big way right now because of the books I’ve been reading (The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chödrön; Loving What Is, by Byron Katie and If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland) and because of a little (or, perhaps, not-so-little) tailspin my boyfriend and I are caught up in right now. Also, because of something my daughter and I talked about yesterday, and a letter I wrote to someone else recently.

Generally – about 99% of the time – I am probably the happiest person you’re liable to meet. I’m able to take joy from small things other people don’t even seem to notice (the sky, the clouds, the birds, squirrels and chipmunks, the rocks, the trees, the river…). I worry some, but my mind does not default to worry and stress and fuss, the way it seems to for so many people. Of course, there is my daily (almost daily) active practice of gratitude that pretty much turned my head (and life) around when I decided to stop focusing on what I did not have in my life (what I had lost) and worked at regularly enumerating the many things I do have and need to be thankful for (this was truly life-changing – transformative – for me!).

What I discovered when I began to do this was that, slowly but surely, my attitude began to shift away from, “Oh, poor me” to “Oh my goodness – what an incredibly fortunate woman I am!”

The way I now conceive of it is that, if I choose to fill my head with positive thoughts, the negative ones get squeezed out due to a simple insufficiency of space.

So, 99% of the time, I am happy – energetic – joyful – content – cheerful. People seem to enjoy being around me, and this delights me to no end. I think it’s because I have a (mostly) positive and cheerful attitude. It must also be mentioned that I’m an Aries person. We are said to be “the infants of the zodiac.” Some of my naiveté and cheerfulness and friendliness and energy and ability to “live in the moment” are 100% natural to me – just plain inborn. Grace. Lucky me!!

Back to what we focus on…

I can look back in my life now, and see times when I was clearly focusing quite a good deal on negative thoughts. During my days in the correctional business, for example, cynicism and suspicion were, perhaps not too surprisingly, pretty big players. During the first few years of learning about the depth of the environmental crisis, anger became paramount. Of course, emotions are complicated critters; sometimes we start with one and before you can say “Jack Robinson,” it has quickly morphed into another. Pain or disappointment or worry or hurt or resentment can turn very quickly into anger, for example. Say your child or spouse is really late getting home, and you’re worried sick. S/he arrives, and you explode in anger. Worry transformed into anger, lickety-split!

After a marriage goes belly-up on us, especially when one is the “dumpee,” we can certainly almost lose ourselves and drown in these negative emotions and thoughts. We can be sucked into a spiral of pain and sadness and despair and self-recrimination, and wind up feeling (and acting) as though our self-esteem were in the toilet. Been there!

What we focus on, expands.

I’ve also grasped recently that anger has a tendency to recycle itself. When I keep anger and resentments bottled up inside me, they keep on expanding and growing and fuelling themselves (and me) in a surprisingly persistent fashion. I once saw at fairly close range how truly deadly repressed rage can be; had an extreme case of witnessing how literally murderous it can be. Not a pretty story, that one…

But here is what my “Aha!” moment was about this morning. The boyfriend and I have this tempest in a teapot going. I feel as though he has mistreated me. No doubt he believes I have mistreated him. Familiar scenario, anyone??

So I wallow in my own feelings of resentment. Pretty soon, I’ve dredged up other, older past hurts, and my current case of resentment gradually expands. Instead of this being a relatively minor incident, it grows and grows and has pretty soon ballooned to ridiculous proportions. Now I’ve become absurd…even to myself!

Here is another neat insight (I think). When I was in Malaysia a few years ago, I stayed in a luxury hotel with a huge, impressive lobby large enough to park a couple of Mack trucks in. There was a front entrance – but no door. The place was wide open, 24/7. There was no back door, either. I was told this was because the building could better weather severe storms that way. The pressure wouldn’t build up inside and cause an imbalance that would lead to an explosion (or implosion).

I suspect we human beings are constructed in much the same way. If we keep ourselves opened up, the storms can blow right through us and be gone. Dissipated. Vamooshed.

If, on the other hand, we hunker ourselves down and don’t let things pass through us and be gone; if we hold tight and solid and firm and very determined to hang onto our hurts and pain and losses and resentments, the storms rage on inside us. On and on and on, like pus from a wound that needs to be lanced. We poison ourselves from the in-side out.


We human beings are certainly complicated critters! We all of us have childhood baggage we seem to hold onto for dear life. We guard it jealously (though perhaps mostly unconsciously). Not-nice things we experienced as children that caused us to adopt an “Oops – time to hunker down!” stance.

It served us well as children. It got us through!

But it doesn’t really serve us so very well now, does it?

I do believe hormonal activity plays a significant role in our lives as well. PMS, perimenopause and menopause throw real curves at us. I’m convinced that fluctuating levels of hormones inside us contribute to women’s (sometimes disturbing) internal mood swings (and thus, of course, the Pill can really play havoc with our emotional thermostats, since it’s all about manipulating our body’s hormones).

It’s a complicated life, hmmm?

I think there’s a need for each one of us to “connect the dots.” Our own personal dots. When we learn to understand our own internal workings a bit better, the world outside us simultaneously becomes easier to fathom as well.

As Gloria Steinem and the 1970’s-era feminists famously used to say, “The personal is political.”

It is not an accident, not a coincidence, that at this time when the outer world is a mess and pretty much falling apart around our ears, our families and marriages and relationships are doing the same. Not a coincidence that rates of depression and alcoholism are skyrocketing at this time.

What we focus on, expands.

If we want to transform the world (surely all of us do?), we have to start by transforming ourselves. We need to learn to tone down the inner workings of that ridiculous “drunken money” inside our heads (meditation helps a lot with that, so I’m told).

Because if we focus on negativity, judgment (of ourselves and others), resentment, pain, anger, loneliness, despair, and rage – well, they will surely expand to fill us right up!

If we turn our gaze instead in a positive direction – toward gratitude and appreciation of what a beautiful Earth/world we live in, and the amazing qualities of the human spirit (resourcefulness, indomitability, strength, resilience, courage, creativity, love, energy, generosity) – we transform both ourselves and the world around us.

It’s our choice! Focus on negativity, nurse resentments and grudges, judge everyone around us (including ourselves) harshly and continuously, immerse ourselves in daily doses of all the world’s “bad” news, or…

Begin focusing on gratitude and beauty and joy and what we amazing human beings are capable of when we set our hearts, minds and spirits to it…

You don’t have to take my word on this, of course, but you might want to give it at least a moment’s thought. I am one of the happiest people I know, and although I earn less money than almost anyone among my rather wide acquaintance, I often think to myself that I am the wealthiest woman in the world.

Not such a bad way to go through the days and weeks, hmmm?


P.S. There are some practices, habits and books that have really helped me a lot. I recommend all of them.

# 1. Frequent, preferably daily, walks. Frequent attendance at beautiful places such as, in my case, the Ottawa River (but the Earth is beautiful quite abundantly. Wherever you live is no doubt beautiful in its own unique way).

# 2. Attendance at a Landmark Forum. I found the one I went to a year ago very worthwhile. It was somewhat expensive ($500 for the weekend; three full, exhausting, inspiring and worthwhile days of learning and personal insights), but I figure I’m worth it. So are you! (see recent posting on this topic.)

# 3. Books. Books, books, books, books, books. I am a serious readaholic…

* anything by Pema Chödrön

* Loving What Is – Four questions that can change your life, by Byron Katie

* The Hidden Messages in Water, by Dr. Masaru Emoto

* If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland (especially if you want to write, but even if you don’t!)

# 4. I don’t watch TV or read newspapers. I catch all the necessary bad news I really absolutely require from occasional Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio listening (the CBC, btw, is one of Canada’s really grand treasures).

# 5. I find Buddhist thought very, very interesting, challenging and useful.

# 6. I’ve been learning – partly as a result of the aforementioned Landmark Forum, and partly due to my exposure to Buddhist thought – to remind myself often: “It is what it is.” This phrase is a remarkably sanity-inducing one, and I use it often. When there are stubborn circumstances that frustrate, annoy or infuriate us, and if we cannot change them, let us just sigh, perhaps, and say, “It is what it is,” and then get on about our business. Not much point in letting everything drive us crazy, is there?

# 7. I often belt out songs while working in the kitchen. Pretty tough to remain unhappy for very long, while singing, hmm?