Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On the Passing of Poet and Leader Maya Angelou Today

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou. 

Ms. Angelou, you were a force for justice, wisdom, clarity, and depth in the world. Today, you have passed away, and I honor you. We honor you. What a loss, but you left a magnificent legacy for others.  Peace everyone.   

In life, I would like to strive to be someone who takes the time to help people feel heard, feel loved, feel edified, and feel cherished.  We can all learn volumes from Maya Angelou.

USA Today story on Ms. Angelou's life and passing: 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Schoolgirls Are Not for Sale

Last week I had my "Children and the Law" students to watch videos of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage girl who was shot on a school bus by the Taliban because she spoke out in favor of girls' education in Islamic countries and around the world.  Malala stated in an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that "They do not want women to get [an] education because then women will become more powerful..."  (  After showing several clips and reading articles about Malala's meeting with President Obama and his family (, I posed this question to my 38 students in the class:  "Is it really that simple?  Are the terrorists, are the defenders of patriarchy in any nation, simply afraid of girls and women gaining knowledge and intelligence?"

My students, representing myriad races and ethnicities, and representing faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, responded with certainty: "Yes.  They want females to stay in the home.  They are afraid females will not know 'their place' there."  I agreed and added, "Malala aptly named the issue.  It is about toppling a whole system of oppression."

I also shared an historical perspective with this class, one of four that I teach at Brooklyn College (CUNY):  Interpersonal, institutional, and structural control over women has eroded slowly, but not sufficiently enough in my eyes.  As we know, women in the U.S. did not gain voting rights until 1919.  At English Common Law, women were literally considered as property of their husbands, and the American Colonies inherited this legacy.  Women in the U.S. only began to gain stronger status as legal persons in 1839, and in a piecemeal fashion from that time until the turn of the 20th century (

Unfortunately, the subordination of women is still occurring.  Women still make $0.77 to every $1 that a man makes in the U.S., for equivalent work.  President Obama had to sign an Executive Order and a Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor this year even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed, to concretely ensure equal pay for equal work after Congress refused to act thoroughly (  Overseas it gets worse.  Some nations go as far as to force girls as young as 9 years old into marriages with grown men (, which perpetuates domestic violence and fatalities in childbirth.  In some parts of India and China, parents may even commit gendercide (slaughter of baby girls) because they so abhor the thought of raising a child that will not grow up to be a man (, (  According to the World Health Organization, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also a shocking, horrific, and thriving practice (, (

The trafficking of women and girls (boys and men also suffer from this crime, but statistically to a lesser extent) has grown to astronomical proportions, which perpetuates a paradigm of abusive power.  The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry (, affecting over 2 million children according to the Polaris Project (  Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization that serves young women in New York City victimized by commercial sexual exploitation, estimates that pimps make over $300,000 per year tax free.

In fact, things are out of control, and females around the world are still treated as second class citizens.  Contrary to what some might say, the facts are not really debatable.  I believe that patriarchy is essential to maintaining even more complex systems of oppression.  Racial and sexual minorities, the poor, and the disabled also fall prey to oppressive institutions, public and private systems, and profoundly lingering, insidious cultural norms.  Whether nations are predominantly comprised of people of European descent or people of color, patriarchy is quintessential for maintaining the harmful status quo.

 On April 14th, 2014, the extremism and bigotry of chauvinists reached new heights.  The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, trained by al Qaeda, and whose name literally means "Western Education is A Sin," decided to gain international notoriety.  They raided a girls' boarding school in a remote village in Nigeria.  The terror group seized 200 students from the school, all of them girls, and began to proclaim their intentions:  In this disturbing video, Abubakar Shekau, the alleged leader of Boko Haram, laughs and scratches himself compulsively while reading to the camera, "I abducted your girls...There is a market for selling humans...I will sell women.  I sell women." ((  The video reveals that Abubakar Shekau is clearly suffering from emotional disturbance and seeks to spark fear and grief in the masses.  Essentially, Boko Haram's recent move says that families in Nigeria and elsewhere who want their daughters to learn global literature, science, math, social studies, history, the arts, and independent life skills, are asking for an act of vengeance.  Why?  Because they believe females should be relegated to domestic, subservient lives without question.

The world is becoming increasingly attuned to Boko Haram's act of terrorism; and the U.S.'s commitment today to assist represents a first step.  However, President Obama pledged to send military and law enforcement advisors (  Peace activist A.J. Muste has stated that "There is no way to peace--peace is the way."  Sixteen year old Taliban attack survivor Malala Yousafzai reminds us of the need to discard the tools of the oppressors when she speaks of the Taliban making her an international kill target for promoting girls' education:

"I used to think [to myself] that if the Talib would come and he would just kill me...what would you do, Malala?  Then I would reply to myself 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.'" (The Daily Show audience laughs).  "But then I said 'If you hit the Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib...You must not treat others with cruelty.  You must fight others.  But through peace and through dialogue and through education.  So I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well...That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"

So what should be done?  International governmental alliances, human rights organizations, the private sector (yes, if there is a global economy then global industries need to play a more beneficial role), along with aware groups and individuals throughout the world, should trace the sources of funding, arms supplies, and public relations of Boko Haram and pull the rug out from under them.  Certainly envoys need to search for the 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls until they are found.  Moreover, we need to commit to empowering girls, women, and other oppressed groups with legal protections, social programs, civic participation, and opportunities for financial equality and leadership.

Sometimes I wonder if more world leaders were female, if the world stage would be as full of divisiveness, egotism, and violence as it is today.  We all deserve the chance to see this for ourselves, and we can start with the education of girls and with the education of all children and adults who seek to evolve.

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated on Twitter last weekend:

"Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls.  We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls."

These places are just a few examples of change agents:

The Malala Fund:

National Women's Liberation:

Girls Education and Mentoring Services (NYC):

Not for Sale Campaign:

Safe Horizon (NYC):

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Approaching the Anniversary of Taliana's Death

Gifts and drifts.  It's been 362 days since my best friend of 17 years passed away.  I'm not really sure what "goodbye" means anymore.  I feel the need to make her presence more real than ever, and also the need to live fully without her, like she'd want.  Here is a poem that I needed to write.  She was an awesome poet, and I know she would smile at this.  I think I am going to share her poetry with others in the future.  I have poems we wrote in high school!  She was one of the most gifted people I've ever met.  A bit of trivia that helps explain the poem-- she was also my piercing buddy, year after year...after year!  <3

For Taliana, my Forever Sister:

I wish time could stop ticking.  I wish the world would stop spinning.  It is all because of you.  You have vanished, yet pulled me through.  Had you never graced my life, I might never have shined my light.  17 years you helped me learn, held my torch so I could burn.  Soul mate sisters never die. You are in me as I cry.  We always said that whoever left first would leave a barren spot on earth.  So I walk here on my own, scared and wary of the unknown.  Since we are so strong, we knew paradise all along.  I can not help but to think that at last you reached the brink.  You are finally free from terror, and can see hope in the mirror.  I will battle on for life, knowing you are my delight.  We will feel the piercer's needle in your ashes and my cradle.  As the clock just keeps on ticking, we will know we are bewitching.

For anyone who believes in energy flow, please send some metta (loving energy) our way.  I feel grateful for all I have, will not take it for granted, and know with certainty that you are a part of it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama Tells ABC News Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

President Obama has gained the courage to say that people are equal, regardless of who and how they love. It's overdue, and I am grateful.

Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Wednesday, May 9, 2012 -- 3:10 PM EDT

Obama Tells ABC News Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

President Obama declared for the first time on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, putting the moral power of his presidency behind a social issue that continues to divide the country.

“At a certain point,” Mr. Obama said in an interview in the Cabinet Room at the White House with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

The comments end years of public equivocating over the divisive social issue for the president, who has previously said he opposed gay marriage but repeatedly said he was “evolving” on the issue because of contact with friends and others who are gay.


Monday, April 16, 2012

What Innocence Really Means

Never be afraid to question that which appears to be unjust, nor to painstakingly examine everything for hidden traces of injustice:

"Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept."  -
The Washington Post - Monday, April 16, 2012 -

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don't Get Used to Your Clothes

Don't get used to your clothes: "Justices Approve Strip-Searches for Any Offense" -

After all, it's not like you have the right to wear your clothes if injustice and suspicion come calling.  The pitfalls of the status quo justice system are innumerable.  We only need look at history, more recent public discourse, activist widsom for centuries, and the scores of wrongfully accused, to know that re-visioning, not revamping or reforming, is vital.  It's amazing to me that the U.S. guarantees each person the right to bear arms in the federal Constitution, but that there is no fundamental right to an education in federal law, and now the Supreme Court refuses to question any law enforcement decision on this strip-search matter, however innane or inaccurate.

I don't think we can afford to be shy about this one.  Please see for ways that you can take action. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Make It or Break It

Make It or Break It...The subtle dance of Morality.

In Buddhist traditions, the Paramitas, or "Perfections," represent the culmination of certain virtues.  Rather than conduits to static rules, the Paramitas are seen as the live embodiment of certain virtues, and another translation for the word Para Mita is "that which goes beyond."  In my Zen study during the month of March, I concentrated on the Shila Paramita, or "Morality."  Mahayana Buddhism has a list of Precepts, or moral guides on the path, which are also experienced as the live embodiment of morality from moment to moment, using Upaya (skillful means) in each situation, rather than being seen as dogmatic commandments.  I humbly share my reflections on the Shila Paramita ("Morality") with you, after providing a list of all the Mahayana Precepts in case you are interested:

Three Refuges of a Zen Peacemaker

Inviting all creations into the mandala of my practice and vowing to serve them, I take refuge in:

Oneness, the awakened nature of all beings.
Diversity, the ocean of wisdom and compassion.
Harmony, the interdependence of all creations.

Three Tenets of a Zen Peacemaker

Taking refuge and entering the stream of Engaged Spirituality, I vow to live a life of:

Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe.
Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world.
Healing myself and others.

Four Commitments of a Peacemaker

I commit myself to a culture of nonviolence and reverence for life;
I commit myself to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order;
I commit myself to a culture of tolerance and a life based on truthfulness; and
I commit myself to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women.

Ten Precepts of a Zen Peacemaker:

Being Mindful of the interdependence of Oneness and Diversity, and wishing to actualize my vows, I engage in the spiritual practices of:

1. Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is.
This is the precept of Non-Killing.

2. Being satisfied with what I have.
This is the precept of Non-Stealing.

3. Encountering all creations with respect and dignity.
This is the precept of Chaste Conduct.

4. Listening and speaking from the heart.
This is the precept of Non-Lying.

5. Cultivating a mind that sees clearly.
This is the precept of Not Being Ignorant.

6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer.
This is the precept of Not Talking About Others Errors And Faults.

7. Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame.
This is the precept of Not Elevating Oneself And Blaming Others.

8. Using all of the ingredients of my life.
This is the precept of Not Being Stingy.

9. Transforming suffering into wisdom.
This is the precept of Not Being Angry.

10. Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking.
This is the precept of Not Thinking Ill of the Three Treasures.


When reading Roshi Aitken’s words on Shila, the strongest echo for me was the concept of technically “violating” precepts to keep them.  In my practice of work, personal life, and Zen study, I am actively working on setting boundaries in order to make myself of best and most moral use to the world.  I found that through study of Shila this month, I can trust my inner source a lot more to make tough choices.

One most obvious example of keeping morality through violating a Precept is nonkilling. As Roshi Aitken points out, “an absolute position—say, of never harming the roaches in the kitchen—will probably lead to harm in our families.  But on the other hand, ruthlessly and endlessly exterminating roaches to protect the health of our children can lead to a wishy-washy kind of relativism” (28).  We also kill bacteria when we boil water, or simply when we take each step on the ground.  If we were to never kill anything, literally, we would not be able to exist.  This type of paradox came up for me in terms of Not Elevating Oneself and Blaming Others in one of the courses I teach, called Child Abuse and Neglect.

Just in the way that we must kill in some small way to be functional, life-affirming people, I needed to violate the Precept of Not Elevating Oneself and Blaming Others to bring safety and peace to others in my teaching.  My Child Abuse and Neglect course is the source of certification for two types of violence intervention.  It is also a very personal experience, far different from other courses.  For nearly two years, it has been seen as a safe and confidential space for students to explore tragedy, child protection, and human relationships, while sometimes coming to terms with abuse in their own lives.  I share my own survival story and manage to get us to laugh and enjoy each class session, while also examining touchy and harrowing subjects.  After our last class, a student confided that the girl sitting next to her, “Kate,” had been videotaping our class.  I had to first work with my shock, and then contemplate anger, before recognizing that problem-solving was required.  Almost immediately, I sent a strongly worded email of warning to Kate.  It was tough because I dread making people feel singled out or targeted, but Kate was obstructing the morally supportive and emotionally nurturing nature of our class environment.  I had to put Kate on notice that she had crossed a line, in the most kind and concerned way that I could, and I threatened to take further action if she did not stop her self-centered behavior.  While I technically elevated myself and blamed Kate, I did so in the least obtrusive way possible, while holding up the greater reason to her and in my gut.

I also found myself violating the Precept of Not Sparing the Dharma Assets, and trying to Not Elevat[e My]self and Blam[e] Others, in my attorney position.  In my full-time job, I legally represent children on probation who have education issues.  After experiencing my childhood best friend’s death around Thanksgiving, suffering the loss of Myoshin which our entire Zendo faced, and then watching my caseload pile up at this particular job, it has become a survival mechanism to set more stern limits and simply tell new clients and referral sources that I am not available.  It is definitely easier said than done.  My emotional state is typically strong in public, and at work, but once in a while, I am secretly hanging on by a thread.  After all this loss, I need to spare my dharma assets by refraining from sharing wisdom and knowledge with clients when there’s simply too much on my plate.  I feel guilty about this because I never want to deny anyone my help.  However, I know from Path of Service and from endless teachings from spiritual guides, that approaching service this way is also a matter of Not Elevating Oneself and Blaming Others.  As Roshi Aitken says, “If I have a tendency to be accommodating to other people, I can misuse this trait in a self-centered way as a means for personal protection” (31).  Egotism can be at work when I somehow think I am indispensible, and that my dharma assets are what hold things together.  Just as it’s crucial to be generous to add richness to the world, it’s key to also break this Precept and be self-protective of my assets to ensure that I always have something to give.