Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bus Riding Revelation: Suffering and Chick-Fil-A

I often avoid eye contact, waiting for the bus on Sunset.  Avoid direct, conversation-starting contact with the too-crazy street folk, from the un-medicated schizophrenics to the tourists from Topeka who see stars everywhere they look. Time passes and the bus is minute-by-minute later than its ETA, and I suddenly awake to the fact that I'm sick of waiting, sick of smelling Chick-Fil-A and unable to gauge the time it would take to order and run back across the street to my stop, all the while stuffing guilty, anti-gay marriage waffle fries in my mouth.  The driver of the 8:08 obviously has it in for me, ruining my night.

And in that moment, surrounded by the greasy air of the chicken joint and the silt of car exhaust, I wake up, and remembered what I'd read that morning.  What I had had the time to read, precisely because I take the sometimes-a-few-minutes-late-because-of-traffic bus.  "Love and suffering are a part of most human lives. Without doubt, they are the primary spiritual teachers more than any Bible, church, minister, sacrament, or theologian," writes Richard Rohr in The Naked Now.  He continues about love ... and notes that "When you are inside of great love and great suffering, you have a much stronger possibility of surrendering your ego controls and opening up to the whole field of life."

You may not see waiting for a late bus as "great suffering," but when you can't. reach. the. waffle. fries, believe me, IT IS.  Rohr backs me up: "Suffering opens you in a different way.  Here, things happen against your will — which is what makes it suffering. And over time, you can learn to give up your defended state, again because you have no choice. The situation is what it is," [no bus, no waffle fries] "although we will invariably go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining," [paying the homeless guy to go buy my fries for an extra dollar and direct eye contact] "resignation, and (hopefully) on to acceptance. ... You can see why we must have a proper attitude toward suffering, because many things every day leave us out of control — even if just a long stoplight."

"Suffering... can lead you in either of two directions: It can make you very bitter and close you down, or it can make you wise, compassionate, and utterly open, either because your heart has been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes you feel like you have nothing more to lose."

Thankfully, this moment of suffering shook me out of my dark night of the ego and reminded me, especially as the bus pulled up, that I am thankful. For a cheap ride home, for the money saved on gas and my lighter carbon footprint that will go to a 4$ bottle of Trader Joe's wine (I'm particularly loving Green Fin California 2010 Red Table Wine, made with organic grapes) and for the people I have the chance to help and talk to and things I get to see by riding public transportation. I directed a lovely couple from Brazil where to get off for the Whiskey a Go-Go, only mis-directing them by one stop, I watched a baker in her white coat carefully disembark the train car bearing a beautiful white cake decorated with elegant, thin silver candles, and a women transporting boxes and bags of floral arrangements and roses in fall colors.

"Nondual thinking is a way of seeing that refuses to eliminate the negative, the problematic, the threatening parts of everything. ... [It] clarifies and sharpens your rational mind and increases your ability to see truthfully because your biases and fears are out of the way." (Rohr)

Pretty much sums up taking public transportation.

(Quotes from "The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See" by Richard Rohr, pp 122-125, 131. )

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday: the homeless and the harpist

Every day, for my current casting job, I read or hear stories of people on the verge — the verge of losing a home, losing a job, fear of losing their friends and family if they become homeless or have to move out of state for work. Though I'm collecting these stories for a good cause, so families might receive expert advice and become part of an online community in which strangers become neighbors and take up the social responsibility of caring for each other, it still wears on my soul.

So this morning, walking up to begin another day of disseminating distressing stories, I stopped to make sure a woman curled on the sidewalk was okay. A man was leaning over her, and as I approached he assured me the other man, sitting in his car at the curb, had called the paramedics. She was perched on that ledge, he told me, and then just fell over. The woman, dressed in dirty, street-stained clothes, was homeless and off her meds, though had obviously just been self-medicating with something. The man who had called 9-1-1 pulled away, and my new friend and I stood near the woman, reassuring her that the paramedics were on their way. She cradled herself, mumbling jibberish and crying, and I felt tears well up in my eyes.

It pushed me over my emotional edge. Too much — too much suffering, helplessness, self-medicating. But what also made me want to sob was seeing two strangers stop their day to help a woman who had likely done this to herself. I heard no words of judgment, just sympathy.

After another day of stories of foreclosure and loss of health insurance, I heard the sound of a harpist. Had I been in a terrible train accident? Was this heaven? It was Hollywood & Highland, and exiting the Metro, I heard Philip King playing to a small crowd waiting for the red line.

The moment of music and the harpist's gorgeous smile reminded me of the small beautiful things in life and, feeling a little more connected to them, I walked down to Sunset where I boarded my bus with a man with no hands, who carted about an old computer tower between his two stubs just above where his wrists should have been. His dirty dreadlocks covered his face as he bent forward to eat out of a take-out container of food he'd just scavenged from a fast-food joint near the bus stop. He, too, was off necessary meds, and muttered the whole drive west, as other passengers ignored him, looked away from his dirty arms that ended abruptly, exited the bus as if he wasn't there.

The last two passengers heading west, we rode the bus the rest of the way as he muttered unintelligible streams of consciousness and I read Richard Rohr's words about being fully present, how the kingdom of God is not the fuzzy future where harps are played by angels with long, beautiful dark hair, but a state of consciousness of being in the NOW. Looking at the empty bus and the homeless, crazy man, I wondered if he were a veteran, and if this was really the kingdom of God.

"The kingdom of God is the naked now — the world without human kingdoms, ethnic communities, national boundaries, or social identifications. That is about as subversive and universalist as you can get. But don't think about that too much; it will surely change your politics and your pocketbook."

Rohr continues to write about prayer as "resonance." "All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message. ... Prayer is not an attempt to change God's mind about us or about events. ... It is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery and forgiveness can resound within us." (Richard Rohr, The Naked Now - Learning to See as the Mystics See)


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Occupy L.A. - Talking About a Revolution

Pete's 77 years old, just diagnosed with emphysema.  He hasn't smoked for eight years, but the 50 prior to that is what did him in.  It's a shame too, since as a activist, he goes to all the rallies and volunteers at various Los Angeles non-profits.  His energy only about 30% what it once was, with all the meds he's on, he was still at the protest to "Occupy L.A.," smiling with toothless happiness as he sat next to me at City Hall, talking about revolution.

Some one with a camera asked me, do I think this will change anything, he told me, taking a swig from his bottle of water and surveying the crowd of post-march people who had taken over the lawns and sidewalks of L.A.'s City Hall.  He paused and we both listened to the sound of a band playing, drums being beat, kids giggling and playing games, an occasional chant rising up.

Even if nothing changes, said Pete, we had a good time, right?  We came, we met people, we listened to music and we talked.  I nodded.  But, Pete continued, I believe it is already changing.  From the middle east to New York to here, a spark has been ignited, and it only takes a spark to fan that flame.


Photos include "Old and Still Idealistic" Donna with her daughter, the "Greed Kills / End Wars" guy pausing for a protest hotdog, "I Won't Believe Corporations are People until Texas Executes One," ladies with feather headdresses (I don't know what it is, but I like it), my friends in marching mode Sean & Robby, and the 99 to represent the rest of us, the 99% whose voices should count, whose votes should make a difference.

Someone with a camera talked to me too.  A man who identified himself as being with NBC's Nightly News asked me why I was there, and the first thing that came to mind, the most basic, simple response was, "I had to show up.  To make my voice heard.  It's time."

But, as Sean coined the word, I'm a bit of a slacktivist.  After marching in the sun, I bailed at 1:30, just when the day's activities were getting going. If you want to head down to City Hall, there's live music at 4pm, an open forum for the occupiers at 4:30, dinner delivered from Food Not Bombs at 5:30, a general assembly at 7:30, and at 9:30, the evening event begins.  Power to the people!

Thanks to Eric, who reminded me of Tracy Chapman's lyrics: "Talkin' Bout A Revolution"


Don't you know you're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know they're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Don't you know you're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

Poor people are gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people are gonna rise up
And take what's theirs

Don't you know you better run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run
Oh I said you better run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run

Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution oh no
Talking about a revolution oh no

While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Don't you know you're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

And finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution oh no
Talking about a revolution oh no
Talking about a revolution oh no