Flying Over the Grass, Part I

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
– Stephen Biko


The Sun Never Says

Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that? It lights the whole sky.
-Hafiz

It is forbidden to walk on the grass. It is not forbidden to fly over the grass.
– Augusto Boal

 

I spent the better part of July building a new bike. I love the bike. But we’re not IN love yet…

The bike I’ve been riding for nearly five years, Parvati, has been a faithful companion. Together, we have accomplished many cycling goals, to say nothing of hours (HOURS!) of meditative, communal pedaling through Nature’s wonder, galore! Parvati, named after the Hindu goddess, wife of Lord Shiva, was dubbed so after careful thought and prayerful intention.

 

Divinely named...

Divinely named…

She is red, a color to be reckoned with (and one I’ve never had the confidence to wear). She is made of carbon and came with fancy wheels that are designed to go f-a-s-t. When I first began riding Parvati, I felt out of my league, like a wrangler tasked to train her Hot Rod to, “heel,” and to respect who was the true Alpha in the relationship. Over time, we became friends and team-mates, looking out for one another on each endeavor.

 

Parvati (left) and Friend, Mt Diablo summit

 

Parvati and I, riding up Mt Hamilton

Parvati and I, riding up Mt Hamilton

Earlier this year, after a back injury, it became clear that, despite all our accomplishments, Parvati was a touch too small for me. For the riding I want to do (and hopefully for many years to come), a different bike was necessary. I felt instantly confused and ambivalent. Unlike other negotiations she and I had been forced to work out on the road (mechanical issues, directional challenges, headwinds and long miles when Parvati forged on, nudging her weary traveler), this was something we couldn’t fix. Parvati would need to find a new home.
Parvati stables in a locked shed in my backyard. After any ride, when putting her away, I thank her, often kissing her, but always touching her stem and expressing my gratitude for keeping me safe, for showing me a fun, beautiful ride, and for partnering with me to face new challenges. Now, amidst the immense gratitude I felt for Parvati, I felt guilt.

 
….And then the *new* bike frame arrived (custom measurements, specially-ordered, totally-over-the-top-intimidating). I made a point of leaning Parvati up against the newly-shipped box. I wanted her to get used to the idea.

 

'Gotta admit, It IS a beau-tee!

‘Gotta admit, It IS a beau-tee!

About that time, Valentino came over. Valentino, a fine cyclist, good friend, bike-building mentor and my sweetheart, walked through the door and smiled at the bikes’ configuration, “Great idea! ‘Parvati, tell the new one all your secrets!’”  “OHHHH! Is THAT what’s happening?” I exclaimed. “I was just feeling so sad for Parvati….”

 

Valentino, showing Parvati some love in the transition

Valentino, showing Parvati some love in the transition

“No waaaay,” Valentino corrected. “Right now, she’s passing along her secrets and coaching the new bike, ‘She’s not super confident on technical descents; she’ll want to take those nice and easy. She’s ridiculously strong, but doesn’t tends to forget, so help to remind her…’ etc. etc.”

 

Huh! I hadn’t thought of that. But I wished I had! And I began holding this new reality, empowering Parvati to be the coach she had always been, as the one who would happily bid me Adieu so she could take on her next case. Of course. Why should it be otherwise?

 

And that really IS the question. Why did my mind and heart first go to the place of guilt and sadness? What have I been taught, or where did I subscribe to thinking that moving on equals diminishing what has been? In the musical, Annie, Daddy Warbucks says, “I’ve always believed one thing, you don’t have to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, if you’re not coming back down again.” In Capitalist culture, there is an assumption that when I discard one widget, I am doing so to make room for the next one, bigger and better. As consumers, the marketplace encourages our proud (thankless?) declarations of, “I’m done with this!” Nevermind where it will go, what I’m to do it with it now.

 
Has this ideology insidiously informed the way we approach our non-widget interactions, as well? Granted, in the world of bike consumption, Parvati isn’t Parvati. She is a 2008 Cannondale Synapse. In the relational world, though – the world that is SO much bigger (and sooooooo much better) than the limitations of an economic system – Parvati (widget or not) has been a relationship. She has been teacher and guide. And this is true of so many other life practices, as well, that unconsciously might sneakily, oppressively be subsumed in the practices of consuming.

 

But here’s the thing: we’re not ONLY consumers. Indications all over the place show us that humans feel overwhelmed by the weight and pressure of consuming, especially when there is no affirming plan or process for proper down-cycling or burial. Consumers and widgets go together in transactions (and often really poor discard planning), but I don’t want to bring this mentality to infuse the rest of my one, crazy-miraculous experience of life.
And so, until part two…

 

Me and my beloved teacher, right after our final ride

Me and my beloved teacher, just after our final ride

 

Living Compassion, a homily

[This homily was offered at the inaugural (now monthly) service for The Interfaith Congregation for Healing and Creative Ministries]

 

Living Compassion

Happy Summer!  Right now, we are in the season of transformation.  In this time of long-lit days, cornstalks stretch high in the fields, grapes grow heavy & plentiful on the vine, and humans gather on porches and patios to tackle projects and share new ideas.  It is a time of empowerment and inter-relatedness, and I’ve been asked to share some thoughts about “Living Compassion.”

What do the World Religions say of Compassion?  Truly, the sources are many, but to keep this succinct, I’ll offer just a few:

Buddhism: “The Great Compassionate Heart is the essence of Buddhahood” (Gandavyuha Sutra)

Christianity: “…be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1Peter3:8)

Judaism: “The world stands upon 3 things: upon the law, upon worship and upon showing kindness.” (Mishnah, Abot 1.2)

Sikhism: “Make your mosque of compassion, your prayer mat of sincerity.” (Adi Granth, Var Majh, M. 1, p. 40)

Chief Seattle, of theDuwamishNation: “Our God is the same God, whose compassion is equal for all.”

Are we getting this?  I imagine I’m quite literally preaching to the choir.  Fundamentally, we agree with these texts and teachers…

Hinduism: “When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of another as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.” (BhagavadGita6:32)

And this experience of spiritual union, of inner peace, our True Nature – call it what you wish – is something for which I imagine we strive.  These sacred texts and plenty of other others reiterate what we might label as, “The Golden Rule,” and yet, for me when compassion is presented in this way, it’s just too theoretical.  The operative word here isn’t “compassion,” but “living!”  This implies active embodiment.  And since it’s all too easy to say and make plans about what I’m going to do the NEXT time I encounter another who deserves compassion, I want to invite us to live compassion in this moment, right now.

Place a hand on your heart, and call to mind a few activities that made up your day today. You may have been chipping away at a long-term goal.  You may have been addressing an immediate task.  First and foremost, did you bring compassion to yourself in this process?  Did you speak kindly to your perceived sense of being inadequate or failing?  Did you take the moment to celebrate an accomplishment, or to nurse a hurt feeling?  Did you firmly guide yourself away from self-destructive tendencies and back into the game when part of you rebelled, threw a tantrum, or gave up?  This is living compassion; in this way, our life becomes a sacred text for ourselves and in our relationships with others.  And it’s NOT simple!!! It demands vigilance, and tough love, and it’s essential in our pursuit of health, wholeness and peace.

To close, I want to draw upon the strengths of the season at hand.  Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the solstice, the longest day of the year.  Hafiz, the Sufi poet, reveres the sun thusly,

Even after all this time 
The sun never says to the earth, 
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with 
A love like that, 

It lights the Whole Sky!

Did you know that since it was born a star, our sun transforms 4 million tons of itself – every second – into light?[1]  No self-empowerment issues there!!!  And talk about inter-related!!?? This outpouring of sunlight creates the photosynthesis upon which our lungs and stomachs depend!

The Sun's Generosity! Credit: NASA/European Space Agency

Like sunlight becoming the earth’s vitality, does our living compassion toward ourselves grow inter-relatedness with others and all of life?  I believe so…and I invite you to think about it.  As you go about your lives in the next days, notice what feels heavy in your heart.  What in this world brings fatigue that is yours to tend and transform?

May we set about to penetrate each moment of our lives with compassion.  And may we find therein wisdom enough, space enough and love enough to light the whole sky.  May it be so!



[1] Swimme, Brian.  The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story, pp. 40-42. Orbis Books, 1996.