Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dolly at the Bowl and News of Oslo: Little Sparrow

Dolly saved my soul tonight.

"I'm gonna preach," she said in that eastern Tennessee lilt I love, and after railing on those people who predict the end times, she started to sing about how we're "so consumed with fear of dying we miss the joy of living..."

I kept reminding myself to stay in the moment, to soak up every bit of her Dolly-isms and the fact that, sitting in the third to last row, in section W,  there were just 17,000 people separating me from this legend. As she told stories of growing up in the hills of Tennessee, I wanted to be enveloped in her history, her family, and her enormous bosom.  She's just so unabashedly — DOLLY. 

Dolly played a harmonica, an auto-harp, a recorder for song about the Smokey Mountains, a saxophone for a bluesy tune, and a bedazzled piano.  She sang an a cappella rendition of "Little Sparrow" which was so haunting, the entire, sold-out Bowl was still.  She quickly followed with the  sing-a-long crowd-pleasers "Islands in the Sea" and "9 to 5."  It was HEAVENLY.

Somewhat literally for me.  I find, when I'm outside of church, in what to me is church, outdoors, under trees and a star (or three, which is fantastic for being right off the 101 in Hollywood), surrounded by people who are being kind to each other and pouring cups of water and wine, I already feel more connected. And then, there's Dolly. Her plastic surgery, her unabashed flirting and acknowledgment that she "wants to go to heaven. But it sure is hell trying to get there." Talking about Jesus in her songs and how we should just enjoy life and love one another.  While singing one of her new gospel songs from a new movie with Queen Latifah, I was moved to tears.  Feeling wounded by the church and the right-wing politics that have taken over Christianity, I push away and bury deeply so much of what I love about the faith.  That God is love.  That the God of Love is in everything.

And yet, just now, as I type this in a euphoric high of post-Dolly in Hollywood, I read my LA Times news breaker that the man suspected of the bombing and mass-murders in Oslo Norway is being described as a "right-wing Christian," and the death toll is up to 91.

Fuck. I have no other word and want one that hasn't been so overly-used to lose its power. Anger and sorrow mixed. Fuck. I want to believe that the God of Love is in everything, but what do I do with this news?  I've lost my Dolly-buzz and am back into reality, and trying, trying to be still in the midst of chaos and pray for a more loving world.  For those in Norway, I hope that love shows itself in the midst of this senseless tragedy.  Suddenly the sad song of "Little Sparrow" seems like a good way to close.

(Photo: Hollywood Bowl)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pass the buck. Action Kivu on - log on to donate a dollar!

Do you philanthrop?  (Philanthropize?  I'm always attempting to coin new verbs.) is sort of like those daily deal sites, but instead, they give you the option to do good, one dollar a day, if you choose.  And today, Friday, July 22nd, they're featuring Action Kivu!

"Passing the buck" is generally not a flattering phrase, so we're re-defining it, and asking you to pass along a buck to the women and children of eastern Congo. $1.  100 pennies.  You've got that to give, right?  Log in at, give a buck and tell your friends.  (If you missed our day and, naturally, you want to philanthropize for Action Kivu, you can always donate here.  In fact, you can make it a recurring donation  — 4$ / month, the cost of a latte, will send one child to school.)

Check out the Action Kivu blog to learn more!  And log on today to to pass the buck along to women and children who need your help.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

L'amour est inévitable

Westwood Village, in the heart of UCLA's campus, has a large population of homeless folk.  I'm not sure why, but my theory is the ease of picking up recyclables to cash in.  A morning walk on any given weekend reveals red plastic cups, the quintessential college vessel for cheap beer, and post-party cans and bottles that they leave strewn upon lawns, sidewalks and passed out frat-guys.

Walking past one of the Village boutiques that I can't afford, a small shop that imports their wares from Italy and likely thinks it acceptable to charge 50 dollars for a tee-shirt simply because the price is marked in euros, I saw one of the regular homeless women staring into the shop window.  She leaned in, her tattered grey dress hanging down over her dirty bare feet, seemingly transfixed by the words on a tank-top: L'amour est inévitable.

I wish I could wear that tee-shirt without irony.  I wish I could afford that tee-shirt.  Though I'm a hopeless optimist at heart, and believe love is the outcome of all that's happening, I'm disheartened daily by the increasing number of people struggling in this world and the role we all play in that.  As our own governments, local and federal, cut programs to save money, more people are left on the street, many in need of medication, unable to grasp reality, let alone land a job in an economy where college grads are unemployed.  At the same time, "US spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has already cost at least $3.2 trillion, and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, far higher than previous estimates, according to a new study released by Brown University.

I'm heartened by lovely connections I see daily, especially to and from work on the bus, where I see punk kids give up their seats, shuffling their skateboards to the back as they help the elderly sit down.  I recognize there are days when it's hard for me to practice consciousness awareness, to be open to others around me when I'm consumed by my own worries, large and small.  But, as Desmond Tutu wrote about the concept of Ubuntu: "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.  We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.' It is not 'I think, therefore I am.' It says rather: 'I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.' ... A person with ubuntu ... has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are. ... It is the best form of self-interest.  What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me." (No Future Without Forgiveness)

Since I can't afford that shirt, I guess I'll just have to make it clear in other ways that l'amour est inévitable.  I'd love to hear your love stories and random acts of kindness.  Meanwhile, I'll wait for some rich person to buy the tank-top, grow bored by it, and sell it to Crossroads Trading Co., where I'll pick it up for a cool 8 bucks.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Sound of Yoga OM-G

Every Wednesday night I let my inner yogi out to play at YogaGlo.  (You can glo too, even if you don't live near the studio - they offer classes online and streaming video here.)  Steven Espinosa teaches a beginner's class, and I plan to never graduate.  He's gentle and careful and funny and reminds us it's okay to rest, in our practice and in life, and always opens the class with a lesson about how yoga fits into our daily lives and world. 

Last night he talked about the sound of "OM."  We begin each class by sitting comfortably, paying attention to our breathing, and then, when we've become a little more present with our bodies, our minds, and our hearts, together we offer three OMs.  Steven explained how the meaning can vary across traditions, whether you learn about it from Buddhism or Hinduism or another "ism," but the overarching understanding is that it is the original, primordial sound of the universe.  So when we breathe out in OM, we are adding our sound to that that is already there, in everything. 

He also explained how it can be viewed as the cycle of life and of a yoga practice.  Beginning with your lips closed, a hum that grows into the OM, mouth open, breathing out, ending in silence with the last of the breath.  In yoga practice, we begin with breath and silence, transition into energy flow and movement, and then finish in savasana, which is corpse pose.  Thus the end of life, or the evening's class, however you want to view it. 

Every week our OM is different as different people gather and add their various energies to the universal one.  One week I felt like I was in that commercial, sitting in front of a giant speaker my hair and skin being blown back as I struggled to stay upright, the energy was so loud and strong.  Most weeks it's a gentle hum that is still filled with power. 

This week, as I tried to time my movements with my breath, it felt like I was trying too hard, I was too aware and not in rhythm.  By the end, as I relaxed into savasana, letting my hands and feet relax heavy into the floor, I became aware of a wild energy swirling through me.  The image I saw was a furious storm centered in my heart and stomach, more OMG! than OM.  Lying there, in corpse pose, I was able to detach from it enough to welcome it.  As I've been learning from the Buddhist tradition, I don't need to label and judge these things, but be aware that this too is part of life.  And last night, part of my yoga practice.  It had seemed distracting, but instead it was just waiting for me to notice it.

A lot has been happening on the ground in the Congo lately, and good change is happening as our friend and Action Kivu partner Amani has been partnering with other organizations and people to make his dreams a reality.  He wants nothing less than peace for his community and country, and healing for the women and children who have suffered so much in the conflict.  After starting a Sewing Collective to teach women a trade and give them a safe place to gather, Amani envisioned a "Peace Market," a safe, communal space along the border, where the Congolese and Rwandans could come together and work alongside each other towards peace and  a stronger, healthier economy.  And this last weekend, it became a reality, due to his hard work and the partnership of other amazing organizations including Empower Congo Women and Falling Whistles. See photos and read more about the Peace Market at the Action Kivu blog, and the testimony of one woman whose life will change by having the simple shelter needed to sell her fabrics and clothes. 

That energy swirling through me?  I think it has something to do with this.  To witness and be a small part of great change that is adding to the healing and repairing of this crazy world.  My Action Kivu partner and friend Cate and I are planning a trip to the Congo late this fall.  Amani has asked me to write his story, and the story of his community, and there is nothing I want to do more, and nothing I'm more afraid of than that honor and challenge.  Scrimping and saving to make that dream a  reality, and to sit in the midst of the swirling energy of excitement and fear, to breathe through it and accept it and work with it. 

Thanks, yoga.  

(Savasana photo: Scott's Yoga Forum)