My Vegan Trial

Today is the last day of a 21-day trial of a vegan diet.  Overall, it was far easier and more satisfying than I expected it to be.  In fact, there was only one day in which I was really disapponited I couldn’t eat something non-vegan; that was my boss brought in some delicious muffins his fiancée made.

Why did I do this? I needed to change some things in my life desperately.  I began the year with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high LDL cholesterol. I’ve been obese for many years now.  I need to change and obviously, everything that I’d tried before wasn’t working.

I can verify that I’ve lost six pounds, and that my blood pressure has gone down significantly, and I expect that the other numbers have as well. My energy has been higher, my thinking clearer, and I’ve had less a tendency to “crash” when I get home after work.

Besides health, another thing that interested me in a vegan diet are the environmental benefits.   The overwhelming amount of grain grown in the world (not just the US) is fed to livestock.  If you think that beef cows graze grass on farmer Jone’s ranch, the reality has been quite different for a long time. I’ve known that the deforestation of the Amazon has been caused by farmers burning trees to create more farmland, but I didn’t know until recently that that great rainforest is being burned mostly to grow grain for beef cows.

In 2006 a United Nations study affirmed that raising livestock for food contributes to massive deforestation and climate change. If the existing farmland of the world were re-purposed to feed humans instead of cows, pigs, and poultry, not only would be there far more food than we need, but we’d soon be converting vast quantities of it back to its natural state.

So, am I going to stay vegan from now on? Probably not in the strictest sense.  I’m not an absolutist.  I might have some dairy now and then, fish from time to time,  and meat occasionally. But I’ve no doubt that my daily meat and dairy habit is over, and good riddance.  I feel better than I have in a long time.

The Boy from Lebanon

The Boy from Lebanon is a thought-provoking and intense depiction of a true story, a plot by Hezbollah to assassinate then-president François Mitterand by using a child. It’s one of the most striking foreign films I’ve seen in the last few years, and it far surpasses “Syriana” in showing how rather ordinary young people become terrorists. But The Boy from Lebanon is a more than a mere consciousness-raiser about the plight of children in war-torn areas—it’s a shocking drama, and an wonderful portrayal of the power of friendship.

Djilali (Teufik Jallab) is a scant eleven years old when he’s sold—literally—into terrorism. Djilali is emotionally shattered, detached, and empty. Even his hatred of “the Jews and the infidels” is something he holds out of duty, and his lack of emotion and whole-hearted dedication to his mission makes him ideal for Hezollah’s purpose.

To get close to the French president, though, he must not only go to France, but meet and prepare to take the place of Karim (Younesse Boudache), a Lebanese-French kid who will meet the president at a Christmas party. Karim, who knows nothing of the plot, is practically Djilali’s direct opposite, an ebullient Huckleberry Finn of Paris’ Arab slums, who hates no one.

To play his role, Djilali must live with Karim for a few days, and the interaction between them is the heart of the film. Djilali regards Karim as despicably frivolous, while Karim sees Djilali as hopelessly out-of-it. The few days they spend together will shatter both of their worlds completely.

Sometimes it gets a bit confusing; shifts between Karim’s French slum and Djilali’s flashbacks are difficult to catch at first, and in my case I had to watch it a second time to understand everything. In addition, the adult actors are sometimes less-than-convincing, but The Boy from Lebanon isn’t about them. The main characters are memorable and masterfully portrayed by these child actors. The director, Gilles de Maistre, is an award-winning French journalist, who presents the characters compassionately, along with a side of Paris that most movies assiduously avoid.

My teacher commented on the Virginia Tech massacre with the observation that Seung-Hui Cho had had no friends, and wondered would he have done what he did if he had. A similar question is brilliantly posed by “The Boy from Lebanon.”

Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

Back from Montréal

I’ve just returned from a trip to Montréal for a joint conference of the United States’ and the Pan-American Esperanto associations. I had a wonderful time, and my only regret was that I had to leave early for travel and work considerations. It was a wonderful experience. In the year since I began seriously studying Esperanto, I still hadn’t met another Esperantist (they’re hard to come by in Norfolk!) and now I was completely immersed in Esperanto, surrounded by hundreds of speakers, mostly fluent, from not only the whole Western hemisphere, but from as far away as Japan.

The whole experience was a blast. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a great desire to travel, and other cultures, languages, and belief systems have always fascinated me.  Here I was having “three-language” days, speaking with the other attendees in Esperanto and with the locals in French and English. (I tried to use French as much as possible, and to switch to English only when necessary—it usually was … my French is very limited).

Although some of the presenters were sometimes challenging for me to understand, it was mostly because of their poor public speaking abilities rather than a matter of language itself. In conversations, I could understand everyone almost perfectly for the duration (with one notable exception!) and I only “crocodiled” for a very few, short instances (krokodili is Esperanto slang for speaking your native language with with other Esperantists). Ninety-nine percent of the time I spoke and listened in Esperanto, and I now feel I can truly consider myself a bilingual person.

Esperantists often speak about the “internal idea” (interna ideo) of their language. The entire reason for the existence of the language is for people of all cultures to have common access to an extremely powerful, descriptive, and fairly easily-learned means of communication, that belongs to no one culture or country and so, puts none at a disadvantage. Somewhat ironically, the desire of a planned “universal” language is to protect linguistic and cultural diversity. The conference exemplified the internal idea quite well, as its theme was diversity and sustainability regarding ecosystems, languages, and cultures.

The “internal idea” has other names outside of the context of Esperanto: love, compassion, tolerance. Interestingly, the more we realize universal truths, such as the fact that everyone of us is simply embodied Spirit, just as every other one is, the more we can appreciate the uniqueness of every wonderful soul.

Merry Subversion!

I’m having a subversive Christmas. I’m thinking about the subversiveness of the Christmas story.

Why subversive?

Spirituality is by its nature subversive… it sees significance and meaning beyond the material… that something is going on behind the "seen". Awakening (what I usually call mysticism) is even more subversive; it sees the interior (subversive!) way as of primary importance for the individual for experience God. The way of peaceful warriors is more subversive still: for us, it’s a challenge of (subversively!) transforming the world by allowing ourselves to be transformed.

Subversion, subversion, subversion! The arrival of the Teacher was announced to a few. Most simply weren’t interested. The presence of living Teachers today is of interest only to a few: most could care less. Yet the Teaching persists, and it’s so subversive, you can’t even grasp it with your mind. That which you think you know is the first thing that must be subverted for the seed to take root.

Nine months before this subversive birth in a smelly barn away from the eyes of the world, something else subversive happened. A messenger (angelos) privately, (subversively!) told Mary that she would become pregnant when "holy breath" (pneuma hagion) and "the power of the Highest" (dunamis hupistou) overshadowed her. (Lk. 1:26-36)

Mary immediately understood the subversive direction of this future birth:

He has shown the power of his arm,
He has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things,
the rich sent empty away… (Lk 1. 51-53)

Just try saying that at a presidential inauguration, and see how long to takes the Secret Service to react! It’s subversive, and it’s not what the powers of this world want to hear, period.

So what will be conceived in you, when holy breath fills you, and your delusions are overshadowed by the Highest power? What or who will you give birth to?

Still crazy after all these weeks

Friends, I’m sorry for my cyber-silence. There’s been a subtle shift in my life, although I’m hard-pressed to explain it. Sometimes I’ve felt very much IN the Spirit, othertimes, no. Sometimes the weird melding of the false boundaries of sacred and secular bothers me a little. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes I take “the bait”—feel dissatisfaction or disgust with the world for the incessant brainwashing that goes on, and most people’s apparent desire to have ever more of it. Two emails came my way that showed me dear friends of mine were falling for well-meaning but nefarious invitations to go beyond honoring our war dead, to further embracing the delusions that are behind all conflict, large and small. They’re always the same—only sides, words, stakes and the particular sparks that ignite it change.

Tonight, I spent a bit of time kything with a dear light… St. Teresa of Avila. (I’ve never explained kything on my blog, and I’m not going to get into it now. Basically, it means “hanging out” with someone who may not be there in an obvious way, such as physically present or on the phone. I’ve always been a bit too shy to talk much about this before.)

Anyway, we “meditated” together for a while, and I came away feeling compassion rather than dismay. We’re all children here. Jesus saw us all as sheep without a shepherd. I dropped “the bait.” (Tricky stuff, that.)

In lighter news, I’ve been watching a lot of LOST, renting the first season, which I missed. Any one want to take a guess as to my favorite character? And whose yours?

Where have I been?

Sorry for the quietness here. I’ve been extremely busy at work the last couple of weeks, and have had much less free time. But that’s a poor excuse for not posting, and it’s not the main reason.

Honestly, I’ve been fighting a deep inner sadness. It’s a strange thing to know that the world isn’t real, yet to live in it, and love it. And it’s simply painful to know how simple life is, and see the amazing nets of pain we spend weaving for ourselves and each other around the world.

Today, the first scientific estimate of the deaths in Iraq was released, and the news was shocking: that as many as 655,000 Iraqis have been killed in the violence ensuing directly and indirectly from my country’s “liberating” war. And my country’s ruler can’t fathom why inserting the “Democracy” disk doesn’t result in instant peace and harmony in Iraq.

My spirit feels like it could weep for days.

I feel tired. Tired of wars, tired of religions, tired of philosophies. I’m just tired of all the shit. All of it.

9-11 Five years later

This will be a day of reflectionand remembrance for many. Five years ago, I was in Shelbourne, MA, in a meditation center during a 10-day long intensive. I remember when our silence was temporarily broken so we could gather in the dining hall and were informed that planes had crashed into the both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

After a few questions and answers (and no, no one really knew anything more than that), silence resumed, with the injunction: This is why we practice.

I was deeply affected by the tragedy, as everyone else was. Yet, I found when I came back, that I was not “caught up” in the whirlpools of fear, rage, war fever, and apocalyptic concern that seemed to be engulfing so many around me in Hampton Roads. Somehow, even though I was in the storm, I wasn’t being blown about by it.

I soon also gained an insight into karma and the cycle of violence. I believe the fuel of violence is resentment. As long as resentment isn’t dealt with, conflict remains, and the conclusion of one war lays the conditions for the next one. If I needed any further confirmation that peacemaking first depends on making peace within, that was it.

I need to keep on with my practice.