• Because We Can

    Three interesting news items have arisen in the past couple of weeks or so, and they all sparked the same reaction in me. They are each different, but each raise some of the same issues.

    A scientist suggests that exploiting the oil reserves present in tar sands will make climate change unsolvable. Because we already have created a dangerous situation with climate using the oil and natural gas reserves, adding oil from tar sands increases the amount of carbon tremendously, possibly leading to irreversible climate change.

    Then, there was the 3D printed pistol. For those of you not glued to your newsfeeds, basically, someone was able to use a 3D printer (still expensive, but remember when laser printers were expensive?) to create a single-shot weapon (called "The Liberator." Sigh.) Of course, it's not such a good gun, but it is the first. And, well, you know how technology goes.

    The last is that scientists were, for the first time, able to create human stem cells from skin cells using cloning. It's a big breakthrough, and may well lead to really important treatments. But it also paves the way for actual human cloning.

    Both of these last two things are, at the moment, in questionable legal territory. There are state laws (in 13 states) that ban reproductive cloning, but no national law, except to ban funding for it. The 3D printed gun has all sorts of legal implications, and the plans were taken down, but of course, you know how how useful that is. I found at least 10 torrents with the files (that is a link to the concept of torrents, for those of you who don't know what that word means, not the files, I won't do that.) They are out there forever.

    What's so different now, is …


  • Life as Practice #4: Past, Present and Future

    Most Buddhist traditions focus a lot on training you to pay attention to what's happening at this present moment. It's a really important practice. Being able to be present in each moment to whatever is happening, whether it is your breath sitting, or being with a loved one, or working, or whatever it is, is the beginning of being able to be equanimous with whatever is--whether it is joyful or difficult.

    And, of course, we all know that now is all there really is. The past is past, the future is yet to come, and living in them, dwelling in them, keeps us from the present moment.

    The problem is, that in order to live our daily lives, we need to attend to both past and future. What do I need to accomplish today? Where did I leave my keys? We need to dip into both past and present with some regularity. So how do we do this without losing the present?

    Part of the question is: are you clear, and in the present when you are attending to the future or past, or are you lost in the future or past? Are you constricted when you consider, for example, what you have to do tomorrow, or what happened yesterday? Are you dwelling on it, perseverating, feeling stressed about either the past or the future? Being present to those feelings is key.

    I have two examples of practices I use that help me in this regard. First, is cooking practice. I love to cook, particularly for other people. And I love cooking for retreats - it's a kind of container that helps me with this practice.

    Cooking requires thought about present and future, particularly. You want everything to be cooked approximately at the same time, and, especially if you are cooking …


  • Life as Spiritual Practice #3: Re-dedication

    It's really easy to get lost. Some unsatisfactory things in life creep up, and threaten to (or actually) upset the equanimity you feel like you've worked so hard to achieve. Maybe it's a job you don't like, or your insomnia, or trouble with someone close to you, your loneliness, or the world's troubles on your doorstep. The world's troubles are always at our doorstep. Sometimes it might just be a bad day, or a spate of bad days. Sometimes, it's something really big - someone close to you dies, or you break up with a partner, or you lose a job, or you get really sick.

    One of the great things about spiritual practice in general, and the path of life as practice in particular is that you actually really never go backwards, even though it might feel that way. You might feel knocked back into last month, or last year, in terms of practice, but that's actually an illusion. The Buddha said that practice is like drops of water into a bowl. Every effort you make adds more to the bowl, but none of it goes away (and no, it doesn't evaporate.)

    We can always move forward, and know that the work we've done was never in vain. What we do need to do sometimes, is to re-dedicate ourselves when we get lost. Right now, I'm a little lost. But I've made a pact with myself - I'm re-dedicating myself to practice, again. For the forty-thousandth time. Really. I mean it. Maybe the forty-thousand three hundred and fifty-fourth time.

    We have to do this over, and over, and over. But it's actually not an indication of failure. It's realizing, again, that practice is like that rope between the house and the barn in a blizzard (borrowed from Parker Palmer.) It can …


  • Bradley Manning, SF Pride, and intersectionality

    I was surprised, then unsurprised, when Bradley Manning was first invited to be a Grand Marshal at SF pride, then had that invitation rescinded.  If you don't know, Bradley Manning has become a cause celebre for those who champion full transparency in government.

    I'm not going to go into speculation about what happened at SF Pride and why - there are others who will do that. What struck me about this brou-ha-ha is how the core of the LGBT movement establishment (SF Pride is as good a representative of it as any) has completely lost the thread of intersectionality.

    Intersectionality is the idea that you can't just look at one kind of oppression in the absence of others. You can't just focus on homophobia, and not understand the ways in which other kinds of oppressive forces intersect. You can't just care about ending your own oppression while you ignore the oppression of others, whoever, and wherever they are.

    Bradley is currently in military prison, awaiting trial. He has plead guilty to some of the charges against him, and confessed to leaking documents. By exposing the documents he did, he helped to lay bare the utter brutality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The thing that struck me the most about the whole situation is not that Bradley Manning was uninvited. It was how he was uninvited. There was this completely unnecessary part of the statement:

    ...Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and …


  • Life as Practice #2: Holding the world with compassion

    We are reminded, sometimes all too often, of the brutality in the world. Sometimes, that brutality hits close to home, and other times, it is far distant, out of our sight. Having to acknowledge, over and over (and over, and over) again that human beings can be brutal with one another is painful and difficult. It is hard to accept.

    I don't want to accept that people build bombs, and place them places where they know people will be hurt and killed. I don't want to accept that people take weapons, and shoot people deliberately. I don't want to accept that women and children are raped, molested and assaulted every day. Worse yet, sometimes this brutality is either done in my name, or done with my complicity, or my tax dollars. I don't want to have to accept that, either. I don't want to accept any of it, none of it at all.

    But of course, I must accept this as true, because it is what is. This is not to say that by accepting it I condone it, or think it is right, or proper. This is not to say that because I accept it, I will do nothing to change it. This is just to say I must accept it, because it is what is, and unless I can accept what is, I will find no peace, and no end to my own suffering.

    Just like we must hold ourselves with great gentleness and compassion, we need to hold others, and the hurting world, with the same compassion. And, we need to hold the perpetrators with compassion, too. That one is really hard. It's hard to find compassion for someone who has done something we find deeply abhorrent. This doesn't mean we don't hold that person responsible and …


  • Life as Spiritual Practice #1: Holding ourselves with compassion

    I was asked recently by a significant person in my life: what is my passion? I have many passions, of course. I have a passion for learning, and a passion for writing. I have a passion for play of all kinds (not so much involving my body and mostly involving electronic equipment of some sort, although I do love to do artsy-craftsy things on occasion, and enjoy a good wrestle or kite-fly once in a while.) These passions change in relative importance in my life, although all of these have been important for pretty much all of my life, even as a kid (not so much the writing--that passion arrived in college.)

    But above all of these varied passions has arrived one overarching passion. A passion that has been with me pretty soon after I understood what spiritual practice was. I have a deep, abiding passion to use everything in my life (and I mean everything) in the service of my spiritual practice.

    I don't quite know exactly which moment this became true. In some ways, it's been with me a long time. I think I would have said as a young adult that I wanted to learn from every experience. This passion isn't quite that. It's not really about just learning from experience, although in some ways, one can't help but learn from experience if one is committed to life as practice.

    One of the things this involves is a willingness to dive deeply into questions about why I behave the way I behave, and why I react to things the way I do. And it's not about judging that behavior or reaction - it's just about knowing it and understanding it. And alongside of that, there is the willingness to hold that reaction or behavior (meaning, really, holding myself …


  • Sticky Wickets: Abortion

    (This post was inspired by a Facebook conversation with my friend, the Rev. Ryan Dowell Baum, about this article.)

    There are some issues in our society that just won't go away. Abortion is one of those issues. I was only 13 when Roe v. Wade was decided, and I didn't really understand its implications until I was in my 20s, and a budding feminist.

    First, I need to locate my personal stake in this debate. I am a lesbian, and have been since the early 80s. Thus, getting pregnant accidentally was not something that I was especially at high risk for. In addition, I've known since I was a teenager that it was a medical reality that I would not be able to have children without extraordinary measures (even though I never wanted to have children anyway.) This means that basically, for all of my "reproductive" years, there has been basically zero risk of me having to need an abortion.

    Also, I am a biologist by training, even though I am not presently doing biological research. One of the things I studied was developmental neuroscience. So I have a lot to say about what might be going on during embryonic and fetal development. That said, I am not a materialist (that is, I don't believe that we can explain everything with science, and know everything about what's happening during gestation just by understanding the science of it.)

    My position on this issue hasn't changed much, really, although I have a more nuanced approach to the issue than I have had in the past. I have good friends at both ends of the debate. (Well, not quite. I don't think that my pro-life leaning friends think we should necessarily overturn Roe, even though they wish there were no abortions. But I'll …


  • Standing on the fence is a balancing act

    Many of you know at least some pieces of my spiritual/religious history, but I'll share it in a relatively short but pithy snippet: I was raised a frozen chosen, then was set on fire by people who wouldn't dance. Afterwards, I threw out the baby with the bathwaterdanced among trees, and walked on the path for a while. I sat on cushions then rediscovered church with a bunch of transcendentalists, then went to seminary, communed with these mystics, and these, and these, joined the last house on the left, and have gone on journeys.

    Out of that panoply of religions and spiritual traditions, two have stuck: my deep abiding with Buddhism, and the long embrace of Jesus. I feel as comfortable (and as uncomfortable) in a room full of silent meditators, as in a room full of people singing about Jesus.

    There is so much about these traditions that are different. Their origins are from entirely different cultural/historical/political streams, and their manifestations in this particular time and cultural moment in the United States can hardly be more different. And although I might appear to an observer to be sitting in silence in my room, I might be doing mindfulness meditation or centering prayer (or some other kind of prayer) and they do completely different things inside of me.

    There have been some great books that talk about the ways in which both of these traditions have similarities. One of my favorite books of this genre is Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Living Buddha, Living Christ." A salient quote:

    "When we understand and practice deeply the live and teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door and enter the abode of the living Buddha and the living Christ, and life eternal presents …


  • Driving (or, why I really want an electric car)

    I'm a real driver, even though I grew up in New York. I actually didn't get my license until my mid-twenties, when I was in grad school in Cleveland, OH. I love to drive. I used to love to drive really long distances, like across the country, until I couldn't anymore. I live now in a setting that is literally impossible (for me) to live without a car. Everything is 10 or 20 miles away, with little or no public transit.

    And driving is, far and away, the one thing I do that is the most inconsistent with my values. I don't have a commute, so that's a good thing. But I drive about 10-12,000 miles a year, in a standard car (not a hybrid), many years less, some years more, especially when I was doing heavy long-distance driving. Luckily, I drive a car with (relatively) good gas mileage. In 2002, when I bought it, it was one of the most fuel efficient cars there were, but now, it's about average, because the CAFE standards have risen (yay!)

    But 12,000 miles a year means that I am putting 3.6 Metric Tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. And, that means I have, over my driving lifetime, put at least 100 Metric tons of C2 into the atmosphere. Now, on the scale of things, that's not much. But it's my contribution to climate change, and I've always hated it, even while I loved driving.

    I do very much appreciate those people, because of their commitment to the environment, have chosen not to drive. Given my physical limitations and the distance of things, I can't just hop on a bike and ride around to where I need to go, like many of my friends do. So this is …


  • Cis/trans is just another false dichotomy

    One of the things I get to do as a science fiction writer is to explore stuff like gender and gender roles. In general, I take much of my inspiration from nature - what exists here on this planet, now. It's rather amazing what nature does with this stuff, really, it is. Way more interesting than we ever talk about. I wrote in more detail about this in my author blog. Today's post is about our society, now.

    First, I want to just say this: I think that anyone (including children) should be able to identify and express gender in any way they want, and be completely accepted, nay, celebrated for that expression. And they can change their minds at will, even. (OK, that's radical, I know, but it's what I think.)

    The current conversation about gender identity and expression though, is driving me nuts, and I realize I have to write about it. The rise of the discussion of "cis" vs. "trans" gendered people is problematic at its core.

    For those of you who don't know about this whole thing, the definition of a "cisgendered" person is someone whose gender identity and/or expression matches the sexual organs they were born with. And a "transgendered" person is someone whose gender identity and/or expression is different of the organs they were born with.

    First, this creates another kind of "us" vs. "them" dichotomy, forcing people to choose one (or, in fact, other people choosing for you.)  And as of late (in the last few years) a lot of the response to the experience of being trans (which is very difficult, even somewhere like the Bay Area,) seems to be in expressing anger at those who are cisgendered, as if just being cisgendered is problematic. It is more nuanced than that …