Thursday, July 28, 2011

True Grit

"How miraculous.  Chopping wood.  Carrying water."  - Zen Master Layman Pang.

The precious thing about ordinary life is its bareness, its grit, its simplicity. 

Nothing special.

Now is it.

That's why it's delicious.

- Charisa Smith...Kiyo

Friday, July 1, 2011


"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark."

- St. John of the Cross.

How much time do we spend trying to figure out how to make things go well. . .How to get someone to respond just how we'd like them to, or the way we think we need them to respond?  How often do we get upset when some mishap, or someone's complications, foil our best-laid plans?  How many strategy sessions have you sat through-- for work, for play, for relationship gain or improvement, for personal effectiveness?  Have you ever thought, "I could get so much done if it wasn't for [X person] or [X situation] slowing me down and getting in my way?"

No worries-- you're certainly not by yourself.  You are in very good company with me and many other people across space and time.

It's not that wandering around without a thought about next steps is the best way to function.  But rather, leaving behind our expectations and our desires for stability can ensure us far more happiness and effectiveness.  It's so funny that we don't get it by now, but nothing can be perfect, and the best laid plans can fall through.  Murphy's Law is well known for a reason. . .Anything can happen.  To put it blankly, we are not in control.  

A well-known Buddhist teacher (I believe it was Sylvia Boorstein) said that "Having expectations is like signing a contract with disappointment."  I heard this ingenious phrase at a time when I learned that several people close to me had cheated on their partners, either in their past, in the present, or at both times.  I just couldn't believe that someone I thought I knew so well, and someone who seemed to have so much integrity, could be capable of actually cheating on a partner. 

When that phrase about expectations was taught to me, I realized how much of a pitfall I'd created by going around expecting the people close to me to share my sense of ethics.  I continue to seek close company that is honest, trustworthy, and ethical, but I really can't expect everyone else to behave like I would in certain situations.  Julie Myoko Terestman, a Zen teacher and advisor, reminded me that I just "never know the whole situation," and that I should try not to judge when I hear of something that sounds hurtful and offensive to me at first blush.  How good to hear.  How true to know. 

Further, Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara pointed out recently in her "Zen and Intimacy" workshop that contrary to popular belief, it's not the task of our intimate partners, friends, and family members, to make us feel happy and safe.  When we step back and think about it, how preposterous is it, really, to think, "[This person] doesn't make me feel good all the time.  They aren't doing what I want them to do.  I need to make them do what I want, so I can be happy." ? 

We, alone, are responsible for our own feelings, and intimate relationships are not a channel for possession of others or for unfettered influence over others' actions and emotions.  Many wise ones say that "You can't truly love anyone else until you love yourself. . .People search so hard for someone else to make them happy.  We have to realize that what we seek is inside ourselves." 

Too many of us believe in the fairytale concept of an intimate partner who will come into our life, passionately sweep us off our feet, diminish many of our problems, and make our lives safe and happy.  Zen Life Coach and advisor Nosan Lawrence Grecco points out that "Relationships are not a way for us to get all of our needs met."  I felt very liberated when I heard him say that.  If the opposite was the case, how would anyone ever have a "good" or "functional" relationship?

Not only are expectations of other people a sure way to stand in line for a miserable life, but trying to rely on events and outcomes is also a no-win situation.  Buddhist wisdom instructs that impermanence is a Dharma Seal, one of the fundamental tenants of enlightened truth.  It's scary, but we can never truly be safe.  Things will never be stable and predictable.  Of course, to get through life, we try to act in ways that benefit others, ourselves, and the environment.  We try to find a modicum of stability in order to function and be healthy, enjoying as much of life as we can.  But we cannot wait for everything to get organized, to work out our way, or to go according to plan.

It's simply the nature of the universe -- the world spins, nothing stands still.  Everything is born each minute, as particles transform and evolve with changing time and space conditions.  Everything dies each minute, for those same exact reasons.  In Buddhism, we believe that there really is no birth and no death.  Impermanence reigns, and we are also all interconnected to the point where in some small way, all that we are and all that we do continues to have an impact on everything else in the world.

Closing our eyes and walking in the dark can mean saying hello to contentment and ease.  Realism with a hearty dose of wonder, generosity, and hope can bring us a much more balanced life.  I invite you to search for ways that you can dim the lights of control-ism --Yes, I've created a new "ism"--  in your life.  Where can we afford to loosen our grip on outcomes and the behavior of others?  Where can we slacken the reigns of our perceived influence and power over life?

True, the lights will be dim.  The lights may be off.  But at least we have a grip on reality, and we will no longer walk around trying to force our neurotic flashlight to cast an obnoxious glare on the world.  So many unknown events await us.  So many unpredictable people can bring us expansive experiences of joy, discomfort, peace, anger, passion, disdain, excitement, sadness, confusion, and love. 

I look forward to walking with you.  If we bump into each other, I'll give you a hug.


I'm gearing up for an evening of mingling with authors and publishers for the 2nd celebratory event in the 2010 NY Book Festival-- a reception at the famed Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan.  Again, I'll be promoting Blending Colors From Life, which won an Honorable Mention, along with my 2nd book concept, involving the survival stories of brave women who have touched my life.  Hoping you all have a wonderful Friday.  All the best.


Tonight I'm going to the 1st celebratory event for the 2010 New York Book Festival.  It's a party and author reading at Cornelia St. Cafe in Greenwich Village.  I won't be reading, as Blending Colors From Life received an Honorable Mention as opposed to a higher prize.  Yet, I'm happy about the honor, and I'm excited to promote Blending Colors From Life and my second book, which will contain the survival stories of brave women who have touched my life. Sending all of you metta and peace.


"Living in the world yet not forming attachment to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student."

-Zengetsu, Chinese Master.

From ancient and modern wisdom, we can take time to learn that each moment is fleeting, and that "it is always right now."  Our challenge then becomes making each "now" worthy of being our last, while relinquishing expectations about loss and gain.   We can not can take wealth, fame, or success along with us in death.  Our conduct and generosity at each moment alone are of true consequence.


President Obama has pledged to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'.  Right now, the Senate is considering legislation that would make good on this promise.

Please click on this link to add your name to the list of steadfast people who want to end such an oppressive policy.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."  -Ghandi


American lawmakers have made a strong statement about openly gay individuals living proudly and out loud.  It's 2010, it's long overdue, and


May 27, 2010
House Votes to Allow Repeal of Ban on Gays in Military


WASHINGTON — The House voted Thursday to let the Defense Department repeal the ban on gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military, a major step toward dismantling the 1993 law widely known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The provision would allow military commanders to repeal the ban. The repeal would permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

The provision was adopted as an amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill, which the House is expected to vote on Friday. The repeal would be allowed 60 days after a Pentagon report is completed on the ramifications of allowing openly gay service members, and military leaders certify that it would not be disruptive. The report is due by Dec. 1.

The House vote was 234 to 194, with 229 Democrats and 5 Republicans in favor, after an emotionally charged debate. Opposed were 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats.

Supporters of the repeal hailed it as a matter of basic fairness and civil rights, while opponents charged that Democrats and President Obama were destabilizing the military to advance a liberal social agenda.
“On Memorial Day, America will come together and honor all who served our nation in uniform,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech, noting the symbolic timing of the debate. “I urge my colleagues to vote for the repeal of this discriminatory policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and make America more American.”

Separately on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar measure allowing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The vote, in a closed session, was 16 to 12, with one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, in favor of the repeal, and one Democrat, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, in opposition.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the committee, said he believed that the full Senate would support permitting the repeal.

Like the House amendment, the Senate measure would allow Pentagon leaders to revoke the ban 60 days after the military study group completes its report and Mr. Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, certify that it would not
hamper military readiness and effectiveness or “unit cohesion.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. Gates favor repealing the ban, as does Admiral Mullen, who, in testimony before the Armed Services Committee in February, called for a repeal.

But chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have objected. In letters solicited by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, they urged Congress to delay voting on the issue until after the Defense Department completed its report.
After the committee vote, Mr. McCain said he would continue to fight a repeal when the bill reached the Senate floor. “I think it’s really going to be really harmful to the morale and battle effectiveness of our military,” he said.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who sponsored the repeal measure, said, “The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy doesn’t serve the best interests of our military and doesn’t reflect the best values of our country.”

“Bottom line,” Mr. Lieberman, added, “thousands of service members have been pushed out of the U.S. military not because they were inadequate or bad soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen but because of their sexual orientation. And that’s not what America is all about.”

The Armed Services Committee approved the broader policy bill by a vote of 18 to 10, with Mr. Webb and Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, who also opposed the repeal, supporting the broader measure.

With liberals in Congress being asked to vote on an unpopular war spending bill, Congressional Democratic leaders have been pushing to finally do away with a ban that many in their party view as discriminatory and unpatriotic.

The Senate approved the spending bill Thursday night and the House is expected to vote on it early next month.

As the House headed toward the vote, the debate was often emotional.
In a floor speech on Thursday, Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, denounced the policy that requires gay men, lesbians and bisexuals to keep their sexual orientation secret if they want to serve in the armed forces.

Mr. Frank noted that the Israeli military, which he called “as effective a fighting force as has existed in modern times,” does not bar gay men or lesbians from service. Mr. Frank, who is openly gay, also said that he would be criticized — rightly, he said — if he were to suggest that gay men and lesbians be exempted if a military draft were needed.

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 Republican in the House, accused Democrats of trying to use the military “to advance a liberal social agenda” and demanded that Congress “put its priorities in order.”

Other Republicans said the military was a unique institution and its rules sometimes had to differ from civilian society.

“We are dissing the troops, that is what we are doing,” said Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Republicans also questioned if the military leaders who would have to make the final decision would be able to resist pressure from the White House to lift the ban.
Democrats who backed the repeal compared the vote to the racial integration of the military and hailed the action as allowing all Americans who wanted to serve to do so.

“In the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is long past time for Congress to end this un-American policy,” said Representative Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who is openly gay.
Democrats accused Republicans of mischaracterizing the proposal, by suggesting it would unsettle the troops. “This policy will happen only when the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stay that it is the right thing to do for this country,” said Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey.


Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" today: Call your Congress members now!

Congress is scheduled to vote on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as soon as this week. Please call your Congress members immediately.  Clicking on the link above will give plenty of information to assist with your calls.  The previous blog entry also provides more information.


This is an historic moment.  The Obama Administration has made a strong statement about its commitment to repealing "don't ask, don't tell"-- a discriminatory anti-gay measure enacted under the Clinton Administration (a wholeheartedly disappointing move during the Clinton years, to say the least).  In law school, I was part of the Students Against Military Exclusion (S.A.M.E.) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense.  This lawsuit sought to ban military recruiters from Yale Law School's campus because of the military's decision to deny openly gay individuals the right to serve in the Armed Forces.  The 1995 Solomon Amendment stated that any law school that refused to allow military recruiting on campus for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. of military attorneys, would risk losing all federal funding.  Yale Law School fought back to honor diversity and to uphold its own non-discrimination policy in the face of military recruiters.

The S.A.M.E. suit, in which I was a plaintiff, was denied a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court because the Court upheld the Solomon Amendment in the Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (F.A.I.R.) decision.  Yet, I (along with many students, university administrators, advocates, and members of the general public), feel strongly that the Court erred in F.A.I.R.. 

The United States rose to "superpower" status on the backs of countless Native American bodies and on the soil of indigenous territories lost, at the expense of the human rights and labor of scores of African-American slaves and their descendants, and due to the struggles and sacrifices of myriad immigrants who continue to be treated inhumanely and flat out unacceptably.  Women in the U.S. didn't get the right to vote until 1920, even though we toiled for, taught, fought for, and gave birth to, this and every other nation.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans have likewise been an integral part of U.S. history since this country was a mere blip on the horizon.  For too long, we were shamed into hiding our personhood and our light.  Subjugating oppressed peoples has unfortunately been nothing but the "American" modus operandi (m.o.).  Yet, too many drops of sweat and tears were shed by a rainbow array of heroes and heroines to give each and every person in the U.S. the right to express themself and make an honest living.  I hope that by now enough of us recognize that we must make smarter decisions about who belongs here and how to treat each other with respect.  It is our responsibility to treat one another just as we would like to be treated.  No less.  

Many Americans are proud to wake up in a nation where we can exercise free speech when we want to change ideas, actions, hearts, and minds.  When we are wronged, we even jump on the lawsuit banwagon because we see it as our birthright.  We claim our freedoms every day.  Yet, children of the Clinton era learned that telling LGBTQ Americans to "act straight" was the best our President could do for our people.  Bush era youth have grown up thinking that leaders of a wealthy democracy can utter homophobic jargon and call it public policy. 

 The status quo is simply not good enough.  It is time to mobilize more strongly than ever to send a clear message about the true meaning of equality and opportunity.

Now is the time to organize and join a cause to ensure that U.S. policy-makers vote to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."  The Human Rights Campaign does amazing work.  Stay tuned.

Obama endorses 'don't ask, don't tell' compromise in Congress
The Washington Post
By Michael D. Shear
Monday, May 24, 2010; 8:36 PM

President Obama has signed on to a "don't ask, don't tell" compromise between lawmakers and the Defense Department, the White House announced Monday, an agreement that removes a key obstacle to repealing the military's policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.
Under the compromise, finalized in a series of meetings Monday at the White House and on Capitol Hill, lawmakers will vote in the next several days on a repeal of the Clinton-era policy. If it passes, that action would not go into effect until the Pentagon completes a study about its impact on the troops.
In a letter to lawmakers pushing for a legislative repeal, the White House wrote Monday that "such an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions."

Gay rights advocates hailed the White House decision as a "dramatic breakthrough" that they predicted would dismantle the policy once and for all. In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the announcement "paves the path to fulfill the President's call to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation."
The move also injects a highly controversial social issue back into the national conversation, even as lawmakers begin to gear up for their fall reelection campaigns.

Conservative lawmakers have vowed to fight the effort to end the policy. Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who had previously supported repeal, said at a recent congressional hearing that "Don't Ask" was "imperfect but effective" and that "we should not be seeking to overturn."
Several conservative Democrats in Congress have said they would oppose a repeal unless military leaders made clear that they approved of such a change. That signal has been on hold as the Pentagon completes its study of the ramifications.

At the same time, liberal lawmakers had been pushing for an immediate repeal. The White House endorsement of the compromise is designed to satisfy both concerns and earn their support for a deferred repeal.

"We can live with this, and we're asking enthusiastically members to support and vote for it," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.


Here is a link to a WAMC, Northeast Public Radio (NPR) story on my book and NYC book release event.  Thanks so much to journalist Dave Lucas for his interest and chronicling:

I give heartfelt thanks to all those sincere friends and loved ones who came out to support my book signing yesterday evening.  Mr. Malloy would be so proud to know that we are spreading news of his work, art, and life across the country.  It was a pleasure engaging in storytelling with you, and your sharing revealed true gems of wisdom and discovery.  Your encouragement moves mountains, and I look forward to keeping you in the loop.  Peace and gratitude.


Today is the day of my 1st NYC book signing: 4-6pm at Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe in Harlem.  I look forward to seeing you.  Come share knowledge and wonder! You will have a chance to tell your unique story, too.  Let's make history together.  More details on the homepage.


Dear friends,

I am truly anticipating tomorrow's NYC book release event at Hue-Man Bookstore and Cafe in Harlem.  This will be an exciting first time for New York audiences to share Tom Malloy's story, and to learn about how each one of us can be a gifted storyteller if we believe in the story we are conveying.  I look forward to reading from the book, viewing watercolor paintings, engaging in audience participation, inviting guests to put on their Historian Hats, and answering any questions you might have for me.
 If you're able to come out, please do so.  I promise to make it worth your while, and with your help we can make history.

 Hoping to see you soon.


"The self says, I am;
The heart says, I am less;
The spirit says, you are nothing."

-Theodore Roethke

Once we strip away all the concepts that create the "self" that we cling to so tightly, what is left?  What is the "self," really?  Who told you that you had to wear those labels?  How have the labels worked out for you?  What makes us poise ourselves against one another, especially those who are different?  How old was I when I realized that someone else using my toys meant that there were fewer toys for me?  And why did I think that was actually true?  

What is jealousy but the idea that there is a "limited pie" in the universe?  If we think that resources are limited, we will see someone else's piece of the pie as taking away from our shielded slice.  But if we reside in abundance, rather than lack, then no one else's share will appear to be taking from our own.  The world is an overflowing fountain of resources.  If we care for what is here for us, we will have precisely what we need to make it through our lives, and to care for generations to come.

Egos are such a huge part of our culture.  We can't wait to add an experience to our resume, a person to our Facebook friends list, a possession to our assortment of stuff, a compliment to our self-perception.  Yet, in the quiet hours, most of us only seek companionship or inner peace.  Those things can't be gained through the ego's maneuverings.  True friends love us for who we are.  We are capable of living with, and loving, ourselves, only when we search deeply for a connection with our source. . .with the reason we wake up in the morning. . .with our commonalities in this world.

I invite you to smile at yourself today.  Breathe deeply.  Notice, and count, your exhalations --one through ten, then back to one again--, while not forcing a certain pace of breath.  One of my favorite songs is "Be Still" by Kascade.  The refrain says, "The more we think, the less we know." 

Zen teaches us that true meaning is found when and where concepts fall away, where notions can not reach, and where intellect can't penetrate.  At their core, feeling and experiencing leave ideas behind.  Feel your way through life more.  Stay awake when you reflexively get distracted.  Bring yourself back.  Ask, "Where am I, right now?  Where is my mind?"  Soon, you may realize that you are part of everything else.  Knowledge of our unity can make us feel truly alive.


"With Right Effort we can see that every action matters and each moment of our whole life is important; actively commit to waking up to the lives that we live each day; return to our path of awareness even when it does not seem clear."

- Angel Kyodo Williams (African-American Zen priestess).

There is no dress rehearsal. Time passes whether we want it to or not. Let's show up for our lives. They are what we make them.



Last night, my family Ruben and Ivy shared Harvest Fields Community Church in the Bronx with me. What a wonderful, electric, and awesome experience. Much love to you and your families. ♥


*Save The Date* - My 1st NYC book signing is on Sat. 5/22 from 4-6pm at Hue-Man Cafe & Bookstore in Harlem. A week away! Come check out the riveting story Blending Colors From Life: Trenton's Own Watercolorist, Tom Malloy, and share laughter, watercolor paintings, spiritual reflection, and wonder.


"Greed is present at all those times when we could have made room for other people in our hearts but instead remained stubborn or indifferent, withholding of our love as if it could get used up if we were free with it."
- Angel Kyodo Williams, African-American Zen priestess.

Let's get free, people. Let's get free.


"If you want to free yourself from the harshness of the world, clear harsh thoughts from your mind. Clear anger with forgiveness, confusion with orderly thinking. Clear restrictions with an open mind..."

- Iyanla Vanzant (The May 2nd meditation in Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations for People of Color).

I really needed to read these words.


It is my great pleasure to tell you more about my first NYC book signing. The second edition of my book, Blending Colors from Life: Trenton's Own Watercolorist, Tom Malloy, is out and available for sale. It is a fascinating biography of African-American artist Tom Malloy. By reading it and attending a book signing or workshop, you will share a remarkable life story in American history, a romp with Tom's quirky wit and wisdom, and a lesson on spiritual strength.

I would be honored to see you and / or your friends and families on May 22nd in Harlem. The event will be child friendly! It will be a chance for storytelling, sundry questions and answers, and learning more about the writing process. Feel free to spread the word, and to email me at with any questions.

Thank you so much for your support and kind attention.    

SATURDAY, MAY 22ND, 2010 FROM 4:00-6:00PM

2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd
(Between 124th and 125th Streets. A,B,C,D or 1,2,3 trains to 125th St.)
New York, NY 10027



You will need your audio on, as this is a song.  If you can listen to the whole thing, please go for it.  This says just what I need it to say.  I have loved this song since childhood.  Kermit the Frog does it best.  Sara McLachlan's a great second choice here, though.  Nothing wrong with being a dreamer.