Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mary Oliver: The Poet Dreams of the Mountain

The Poet Dreams of the Mountain

Sometimes I grow weary of the days with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old grey mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

~ Mary Oliver ~


Web version:

More Powerful Than We Know: Interview with Tim DeChristopher

by Brooke Jarvis

Facing jail time for civil disobedience, Tim DeChristopher on why “we have more than enough power” to stop the fossil fuel industry.

Two years ago, in the waning days of the Bush administration, Tim DeChristopher was a 27-year-old college student who went to a protest. The rights to extract oil and gas from public lands in Utah were being auctioned off, and DeChristopher, concerned about the eventual impact of those fossil fuels on
climate change, was determined to stop the auction. Someone mistook him for a bidder and offered him an auction paddle. He began bidding on land parcels, eventually winning 22,500 acres (for a total bid of $1.8 million, which he had no intention—or means—to pay) and calling attention to what the Department of the Interior later determined was an illegitimate auction.

On Monday, a federal court will convene to decide if DeChristopher is guilty of two felonies for his actions that day, charges that could land him in prison for up to 10 years and lead to fines of $750,000. You might think that kind of consequence would dampen someone's resolve, but DeChristopher is more convinced than ever that ordinary people have the power to stop even the most entrenched interests—provided we recognize that power.


Brooke Jarvis: From Tunisia to Egypt to Wisconsin, this is certainly a time when the power of people’s movements is evident—and particularly the quick, viral way they can spread as the success of one movement inspires another to begin. What can we learn from the uprisings of recent weeks?

Tim DeChristopher: Throughout the few weeks of the uprising in Egypt, there was never really any doubt that the protesters would eventually take out Mubarak. It was totally clear: They knew they had this level of power and were committed to exercising it. What we're missing is that commitment to exercising the citizen power that we already have. In Egypt, once they made the decision that they were going to be a powerful force, there was no stopping them.


The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. - Jim Hightower

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. - Mohandas K. Gandhi

A Little Meditation Goes a Long Way

by Jason Marsh

A new study offers the strongest evidence to date that meditation can change the structure of your brain.

I consider myself something of a prospective meditator—meaning that a serious meditation practice is always something I’m about to start… next week.

So for years, I’ve been making a mental note of new studies showing that meditation can literally change our brain structure in ways that might boost concentration, memory, and positive emotions.

The results seem enticing enough to make anyone drop into the full lotus position—until you read the fine print: Much of this research involves people who have meditated for thousands of hours over many years; some of it zeroes in on Olympic-level meditators who have clocked 10,000 hours or more. Pretty daunting.

Well, a new study offers some hope—and makes the benefits of meditation seem within reach even for a novice like me.

The study, published last month in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy.



What's encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we're closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.... Everything is material for the seed of happiness, if you look into it with inquisitiveness and curiosity. The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment. There always is the potential to create an environment of blame -- or one that is conducive to loving-kindness.

- Pema Chodron

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Question by Rumi

One Dervish to another, What was your vision of God's presence?
I haven't seen anything.
But for the sake of conversation, I'll tell you a story.

God's presence is there in front of me, a fire on the left,
a lovely stream on the right.
One group walks towards the fire, into the fire,
another toward the sweet flowing water.
No one knows which are blessed and which not.
Whoever walks into the fire appears suddenly in the stream.
A head goes under on the water surface, that head pokes out of the fire.
Most people guard against going into the fire,
and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion are
cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, I am not fire.
I am fountainhed. Come into me and don't mind the sparks.

If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
You should wish to have a hundred thousand sets of mothwings,
so you could burn them away, one set a night.
The moth sees light and goes into the fire.
You should see fire and go toward the light.
Fire is what of God is world-consuming.
Water, world-protecting.
Somehow each gives the appearance of the other.
To these eyes you have now, what looks like water burns.
What looks like fire is a great relief to be inside.
You've seen a magician make a bowl of rice seem a dish
full of tiny live worms.
Before an assembly with one breath he made a floor swarm
with scorpians that weren't there.
How much more amazing God's tricks.
Generation after generation lies down defeated, they think,
but they're like a woman underneath a man, circling him.
One molecule-mote-second thinking of God's reversal
of comfort and pain is better than attending any ritual.
That splinter of intelligence is substance.

The fire and water themselves:
Accidental, done with mirrors.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The New American Oligarchy

This is a powerful article, well worth the read. Please consider passing on...


There is a war underway. I'm not talking about Washington’s bloody misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a war within our own borders. It’s a war fought on the airwaves, on television and radio and over the Internet, a war of words and images, of half-truth, innuendo, and raging lies. I'm talking about a political war, pitting liberals against conservatives, Democrats against Republicans. I'm talking about a spending war, fueled by stealthy front groups and deep-pocketed anonymous donors. It’s a war that's poised to topple what's left of American democracy.

The right wing won the opening battle. In the 2010 midterm elections, shadowy outside organizations (who didn’t have to disclose their donors until well after Election Day, if at all) backing Republican candidates doled out $190 million, outspending their adversaries by a more than two-to-one margin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. American Action Network, operated by Republican consultant Fred Malek and former Republican Senator Norm Coleman, spent $26 million; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plunked down $33 million; and Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS shelled out a combined $38.6 million. Their investments in conservative candidates across the country paid off: the 62 House seats and six Senate seats claimed by Republicans were the most in the postwar era -- literally, a historic victory.

Knocked out of their complacency, no longer basking in the glow of Barack Obama's 2008 victory, wealthy Democrats are now plotting their response. Left-wing media mogul David Brock plans to create an outside group dubbed American Bridge in response to Rove's Crossroads outfits that will fight in the trenches of 2012 campaign spending. Many more outfits like Brock's will surely follow, as liberal and centrist Democrats brace for a promised $500 million onslaught by the Chamber of Commerce and others of its ilk.

Even the Obama administration, which shunned outside groups in 2008, has opened the door to a covert spending war. The Democrats will now fight fire with fire. "Is small money better? You bet. But we're in a fucking fight," Democratic strategist and fundraiser Harold Ickes told me recently. "And if you're in a fistfight, then you're in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available."

The endgame here, of course, is non-stop war. No longer will outside groups come and go every two years. Now, such groups will be running attack ads, sending out mailers, and deploying robo-calls year-round in what is going to become a perpetual campaign to sway voters and elect friendly lawmakers. "We're definitely building a foundation," was how American Crossroads president Steven Law put it.

This is what nowadays passes for the heart and soul of American democracy. It used to be that citizens in large numbers, mobilized by labor unions or political parties or a single uniting cause, determined the course of American politics. After World War II, a swelling middle class was the most powerful voting bloc, while, in those same decades, the working and middle classes enjoyed comparatively greater economic prosperity than their wealthy counterparts. Kiss all that goodbye. We're now a country run by rich people.


"What the present Supreme Court, itself the fruit of successive tax-cutting and deregulating administrations, has ensured is this: that in an American “democracy,” only the public will remain in the dark. Even for dedicated reporters, tracking down these groups is like chasing shadows: official addresses lead to P.O. boxes; phone calls go unreturned; doors are shut in your face." ~ Andy Kroll

Egypt: Lessons in Democracy

by Stephen Zunes

Could 2011 be to the Arab world what 1989 was to Eastern Europe?

Together, the unarmed insurrection that overthrew the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the ongoing uprising in Egypt have dramatically altered the way many in the West view prospects for democratization in the Middle East. The dramatic events of recent weeks have illustrated that for democracy to come to the Arab world, it will come not from foreign intervention or sanctimonious statements from Washington, but from Arab peoples themselves.

While many observers have acknowledged how unarmed pro-democracy insurrections helped bring democracy to Eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of Asia and Africa, they had discounted the chances of such movements in the region, despite Tunisia being far from the first.

There has actually been a long history of nonviolent pro-democracy struggle in North Africa and the Middle East. Egypt wrested its independence from Great Britain as a result of a massive nonviolent resistance campaign launched in 1919. In Sudan, military dictators were ousted in nonviolent insurrections in 1964 and 1985, though the democratic experiments that followed were cut short by military coups a few years later. In 1991, in a nonviolent struggle succeeded in ousting the Traore dictatorship in Mali, despite the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters by the armed forces. Though it is one of the poorest countries in the world, Mali has been one of the most stable and democratic countries in the region ever since. The recently published book Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East documents numerous other popular pro-democracy movements throughout the Arab world.

The current struggle in Egypt—the center of Arab media, scholarship, and culture—has enormous ramifications for the region as a whole. The predominantly young secular activists who initiated the struggle reject not only the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak but also conservative Islamist leaders; they have put together a broad coalition of young and old, Muslim and Christian, poor and middle class to challenge a brutal corrupt regime which has held power for nearly thirty years. Like-minded civil society activists are organizing elsewhere. Indeed, 2011 could be to the Arab world what 1989 was to Eastern Europe.


"As long as the United States remains the world's No.1 supplier of security assistance to repressive governments in the Middle East and elsewhere, the need for massive nonviolent action in support for freedom and democracy may be no greater than here." ~ Stephen Zunes