Monday, April 21, 2008

Hanuman Jayanti!

I've been wearing an image of Hanuman around my neck for a few months, wanting to hold close his qualities of service and devotion. I love the stories of Hanuman, how far he'll jump, how big or how small he'll make himself, all in service to Rama.

Service is big for me, and has been something I've been thinking about a lot lately -- how am I in service and to what?

Certainly, in my work, I am of service, being that my job is in the non-profit sector. I do very much appreciate that what I do every day contributes in some way to making the world a better place down the line. And since I began volunteering at WildCare in San Rafael, I am savoring that service every single week.

The rub comes when that work-service is not in service to my own self.

Last Friday, I busted my a** setting up an event for my job, violating my own boundaries by doing work that wasn't mine to do. I pushed myself for twelve straight hours, physically and mentally, didn't sit down, didn't have time to eat, was the last to leave. On Saturday, I was a wreck, so tired that all I wanted to do was cry, picked a fight with my beloved, felt nauseous, had no energy to do what I wanted.

Then I remembered.

In about hour 5 of the over-work day, while engaged in some menial task, I heard something land on the ground near my feet. I looked down and there was Hanuman, slipped free from his chain, sitting between my arches. I put him in my pocket and kept moving.

Hanuman's super-human feats are powered by love and devotion. He is never tired, no task is too great, because his love and devotion are bigger than anything else. Of course it helps that he has super-human powers! :)

Was I moving mountains out of love and devotion? Nope, I was head-down, doing what needed doing, in a furious race against time, blind to the notion of service. Had I paid attention, taken a moment to consider Hanuman as I picked him up off the floor, perhaps I could have re-oriented myself, saved myself from having to pick me up off the floor the next day.

Again I'm asking myself what am I in service to and how do I best serve? My best service is conscious, chosen, grounded in love and devotion. I didn't chose on Friday and the end-result is suffering. This is not what Hanuman is about. Service is joy-full. If I keep my eye on joy, then I can make a better choice next time around.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Praise, some words about

A colleague observed me in a meeting, uncomfortable at being praised in front of the entire staff. It made her feel sad that I had my head down and couldn't accept the praise. She would have preferred me with head up, smiling, taking it all in. Her conclusion was that I didn't somehow feel I deserved the praise, and that, for her, was sad.

The truth, for me, was the praise felt excessive and I was embarrassed. I don't have a problem accepting praise, I said; it's just when the praise seems so far out of scale with the actual accomplishment that I start to squirm. I love the spotlight, believe me, and like all creatures I like to be recognized when I've made a contribution or done something great.

In reflecting a bit more about my response to praise, I realized that I have two very different sets of reactions to it. In yoga, when a teacher praises me, I feel good, I take it in, I expand more -- I deeply feel it and it resonates for hours, even days. I'll go home and say to Joe, "Laura praised me tonight," and walk a little taller. It creates a stable platform of confidence that allows me to try more new things.

At work when a colleague praises me, I am generally bothered.

Last night in yoga, the answer came to me. And it came to me in the form of the dolphin image above.

People get so excited at dolphin shows when the dolphins jump out the water on cue, interact with people, follow commands. Aren't they so cute and amazing? This has always struck me as wrong-headed somehow. A dolphin is so intelligent, has so much wild potential, that to praise it for demonstrating the simplest of its capabilities is such a diminishment of its full individual value. That has always seemed so sad to me, that we measure its worth in such a small way.

When I'm in class, practicing, and receive praise, I drink it in because I'm actually working, pushing, stretching, expanding my own limits. I'm actually trying, so the praise matches my effort, rewards it. At work, the things I'm generally praised for are such a tiny fraction of what I'm capable of, and I don't feel I really have to try as I'm producing them. They're easy, no stretch, no expansion. This is why the praise feels excessive to me, when my colleagues heap it on for something I could have done with my eyes closed. That may sound arrogant, but I think it's important and true for me, a serious sign that I need to jump out of the performance pool and realize some of that bigger potential.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Katherine Powell Cohen rules!

My beloved friend Katherine sent me a copy of the email she sent to the SFPD. I am reprinting here without her permission, but I'm sure she won't mind. I so so so appreciate her for taking the time to write and send this letter!

From: Katherine Powell <>
Date: April 9, 2008 11:36:45 P.M. PDT
Subject: Call for Apology

Dear SFPD:

It was with shock and shame, as a San Franciscan and an American, that I saw footage on ABC 7 news of a San Francisco police officer engaging in hooliganism today. As a citizen, I call for a public apology by Commissioner Fong and tangible evidence that the officer be educated on the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution, and be punished.

After torchbearer Majora Carter waved a small Tibetan flag, which was confiscated by a Chinese Olympics official, an SF police officer shoved Ms Carter from behind as she finished her leg of the relay. Ms Carter is a respected environmentalist who has done much for the greater good, and her action today was dignified. Regardless of Ms Carter's respected status in our community, and aside from the fact that her gesture was a graceful statement, the police officer's action was an affront to the American people and a disgrace to the city of San Francisco. The freedom to express one's convictions, especially in support of an oppressed people, is one of the factors that makes the United States a beacon of democracy. The Chinese official, by snatching the flag from Ms Carter, only emphasized the contrast between Chinese government, and the U.S. government's great populist foundation. In the next minutes, the offending officer showed ignorance of American values by behaving even worse than the Chinese official.

Katherine Powell Cohen, Ph.D.
Hurray for Katherine!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A reminder about political leaders

Yesterday morning brought a brilliant blue sky, perfect spring conditions in San Francisco. Gorgeous. I crossed the Golden Gate early, to miss the impact of the Burmese monks who'd be massing and walking around 9. There was something in the air: today was the day, the big day that San Francisco would be center stage, hosting the biggest protest for Tibetan freedom.

I'd awakened still unsure of where the right place to be was for me -- should I go to work and do the all-day meeting with my boss on how to augment the benefit package for the staff; or should I add my body to the non-violent masses along the waterfront. Ultimately, I decided that I would work to create some good in a more immediate way yesterday, so I went to the office. Wearing white, in support of the Tibetan people, as we'd been ask to do for the protest. And wearing my prayer scarf and really holding them in my thoughts.

As staff arrived, there was something in the air for them, too. The television was rolled out, and people kept an eye on what was happening. One of us was getting fairly constant texts and had friends along the waterfront, who were relaying information. I went into my meeting and worked, tv in the background, muted. Between conversations about how we could provide better benefits, I'd look over and react to the heavy police presence, the changed route, the total suppression of free speech.

There was a burst of activity when Adrienne and Shannon realized that the relay was on Van Ness and Bush and they ran down to see it. Shannon ran alongside chanting "Free Tibet" until Broadway, and then walked back.

All evening long I couldn't shake, still can't, a deep feeling of disappointment and one of shame: here was a golden opportunity, side-stepped, for political goals out of step with the 10,000 people in the street.

Thank you to Supervisor Peskin for summing it up:

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a vocal critic of Newsom's administration, was equally unhappy, as was the local ACLU chapter.

"Gavin Newsom runs San Francisco the way the premier of China runs his country - secrecy, lies, misinformation, lack of transparency and manipulating the populace," Peskin said. "He did it so China can report they had a great torch run."

What a shame!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

San Franciscan pride, hmmmm

My boss kindly said to me yesterday, "I know this whole question of Tibetan freedom is deep for you, close to your heart, so if you need to take the day off on Wednesday to go protest the Chinese torch relay, I'm fine with that." [That, right there, is an example of how wonderful she is and how lucky I am.]

My reply surprised me a little. Really, I told her, that issue is very deep for me. I was stunned when the Chinese government referred to Dalai Lama as the "scum of buddhism" and accused him of fomenting terrorism.

But there's something else that has been driving me more. And that is, that as a San Franciscan, I feel it is my right, my privilege, my heritage, my duty to Stand Up in these situations. I was profoundly offended by the idea that the mayor was setting up Designated Free Speech Zones, as if the entire country weren't a designated free speech zone and as if San Francisco by definition wasn't the freest free speech zone in the entire world. If not here, then where??

Right now San Francisco is training a crucial spotlight on the issue of Chinese treatment of Tibetan people and culture. And San Franciscans and friends are turning up in droves. Just last night I attended a vigil with thousands of people, standing for hours in a cold wind, together on the issue of peace, self-determination and TRUTH.

For me as a San Franciscan, not being a part of the activities this week is akin to missing an earthquake. Maybe only San Franciscans can understand this visceral need to feel a part of big social changes, huge (sometimes cataclysmic) shifts in seemingly immovable tectonic plates. I don't think it's any surprise, really, that this area is so creative, so free -- our geology requires it!

Grateful again to have been raised here. Grateful again for what the city represents and for how it can come together in support of freedom for all.