Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
i don't even believe in god but OH MY GOD this puppy has a lot of energy. i so completely can't keep up. i've been looking after him and his six year old friend for almost a week, and i'm completely exhausted at the end of every day. it's all i can do to answer pertinent email and check phone messages in between all the attention he requires. we walk/run/skip/jump for at least three hours every single day and still, every morning he wakes up ready for another day of it.
maybe it's a guy thing. guys, i've decided, have no choice but to establish themselves within some kind of hierarchy. it's just the way the world's constructed and there's no getting away from it. the female of the species, on the other hand, can choose to compete --- or not. if she wants it, there's an established order. or, if she prefers to remain outside of it, unknown and alone, that's her option. it's good to have that choice.
today we journeyed to goldstream park, to meet with friends from near duncan. we figured it's about a half way mark, which it is. i first brought the doggies to dallas road, to allow them to empty themselves and have a bit of a walk/run/romp prior picking up our other friends and travelling northward. it was a beautiful morning in one of the best doggie walking parks in the entire world, no doubt.
when we got to goldstream park we realized that the elder squirrel-obsessed of us could not be trusted near the highway. the mountains looked daunting for the aged among us and so, after consulting a map, we chose to instead explore the goldstream campgrounds. amazing that it still exists, surrounded as it is by the insistent sprawl of langford. a sign, upon entry to the campgrounds, advised us that "picnicking is not allowed," which caused great guffaws of laughter. imagine, outlawing picnicking. only in langford. i decided if there's anything i want to go to jail for, it's picnicking in a campground.
we couldn't find a parking lot which normally would please me, preferring cycling and walking as i do, but today with three dogs and a friend in our car and another car of friends following, was just frustrating and strange. since it's september and there are so few campers, and fewer picnickers, we chose to claim camping spots and ventured into the woods from there.
i can't believe i've lived in victoria all these 20 years, longer than i've lived anywhere else in my whole entire life, and haven't explored goldstream park and/or campgrounds. we found the trail to the falls, negotiated with some very uptight touristas who were afraid of dogs off leash (who in their right mind would leash a dog in the wilderness, really) and enjoyed the near pristine beauty of the this tiny bit of wild space that the monsters who would pave all that is sacred have as yet spared.
after a couple of hours negotiating trails and wilderness pathways and a dog who insists on hunting squirrels until finally she can be convinced to reclaim her right mind, we returned to the city. my stress level had already increased noticibly and i attempted to negotiate traffic and return my friend and her dog to their home, get the puppy and his friend back to theirs, grab a bite to eat knowing it may be my last for a while, and find my way downtown for my afternoon dental appointment. i had hoped this outing would tire out the dogs and relax me, in preparation for what i expected to be some painful dental reconstruction (resulting from way too much mercury previously distorting my natural mouthliness), but i found myself at my dentist's office feeling stressed and entirely unrelaxed. this was not, i realized, a good way to proceed.
i had a few minutes while my dentist attended to her other appointment, and found savasana in her little yoga/meditation room. i focused my breath on relaxing my jaw, my face, my brain. a few minutes later dr. geddo advised me she's ready for me, to take my time and move to the available room. once there she listened with empathy to my day's story, seemed to truly appreciate that doggie minding, like child care, is not, as it might appear, so much about being paid to do something you love (which it is), but is also filled with the stress of responsibility. there's nothing worse than confronting doggie parents with news of their disfigured child canine upon their return. deanna brought me a warm, lavender scented towel for my face, and a hot stone for my chakras, and left me for another ten or fifteen minutes. i had almost drifted entirely off when she returned and prepared my mouth for its transformation.
luckily, this time, she was working on her own previous work rather than on old mercury filled and perhaps unnecessarily caverns, and the procedure was rather painless. it was about removing a filling she'd installed, replacing the awful mercury filling that had previously inhabited the space, and preparing an inlay. very expensive. lots of dog walking to pay for this, for sure. but there's not much in the world that's worse than not being able to eat, so i invest. hopefully, after deanna has cleaned up the mess from all the previous mercury inspired dentists and reconstructed the beautiful natural teeth i was born with, i'll be able to chew until my dying days.
somehow, tonight, eating my green pea soup and soothing my not so frozen jaw with organic red wine and watching sherlock holmes, i concluded that men have no choice but to fit themselves into some hierarchy or another. women can choose to make their own way. i'm thankful for a south american woman who has created an environment where visiting a dentist is the least stressful part of my day.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The People’s Commission Network is holding a popular forum, Whose Security? Our Security!,
Community Advisory from the People's Commission Network
Montreal, September 2010
The recent arrests associated with the RCMP’s offensively named "Project Samossa" have generated a lot of questions and uncertainties in communities targeted by Islamophobia and racism. This community advisory is aimed at providing information and advice to address some of those questions. We hope that it will contribute to confident resistance to profiling, marginalization and criminalization.
1. What is the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act?
2. What does it mean if individuals are arrested on terrorism-related charges?
3. Why are they in prison if they haven’t been found guilty of anything?
4. In how much detail should I talk about an accused whom I may know?
5. What do I do if someone I don't know asks me about an accused, related matters that have come up in the media, and what I think of the situation?
6. How do we build secure communities and not fall prey to paranoia?
7. Is it safe to go to the mosque?
8. If I get involved with community and broader initiatives denouncing the racism and Islamaphobia around this issue - including the racism in media and readers' comments – will I come under surveillance?
9. What should I do if the police come to my door or ask to speak to me?
10. What should I do if the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) approaches me, my family, or my community ?
11. What can I do about the profiling of my community and its members by CSIS and other agencies, and the anti-Muslim media coverage?
12. Where can I go for more information or help?
1) What is the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act?
The Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act was passed in December 2001, in the wake of the events surrounding September 11th in the United States. The Liberal government at the time fast-tracked the passing of the legislation, curtailing debate over its potential for abuse and refusing all substantial amendments.
The explicit purposes of the changes were to allow the government to act “preventively” and to broaden the definition of terrorism to include more indirect support.
The Act introduced new offences under the Criminal Code, including the financing and facilitation of terrorist activities. It also granted the police broader powers, including permitting them to undertake "preventive" arrests and compel witnesses to testify before a judge. A broader use of secret evidence was allowed. In addition, the Anti-Terrorism Act made it easier for security agencies to use electronic surveillance.
Two of the measures which generated most controversy, preventive arrests and investigative hearings (compelling witnesses to testify), were temporary and expired in 2007. They were re-introduced by the Conservative government in fall 2007, and re-re-introduced as Bill C-17, The Combating Terrorism Act, in April 2010, which is currently at first reading stage in Parliament.
It is important to note that most, if not all, of the activities the Anti-Terrorism Act addresses are crimes and that many so-called terrorism offences could simply - and with far less stigma - be charged as “ordinary” criminal conspiracies.
At the heart of the legal definition of terrorist activities – what sets them apart from “ordinary” crimes - is a “motive clause”, stipulating that the Crown must prove that a terrorist activity was committed for political, religious, or ideological purposes. In 2008, the Court declared this portion of anti-terrorism law to be unconstitutional, after Mohammad Momin Khawaja’s lawyers argued that it violated fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion, and thought, belief, and opinion as well as expression. In its decision, the Court found that the motive clause, by focusing state attention on the religious and political beliefs of certan individuals and communities, carried a danger of racial and religious profiling. Although the decision is now in appeal, the case highlights the problems with Canadian anti-terrorism legislation and suggests that it can (and should) be challenged.
Offences under Canadian anti-terrorism legislation are defined very broadly. Some examples:
The government has designated certain groups as terrorist organizations. It is a crime to collect funds for, facilitate activities in, or instruct anyone to take part in a listed group. The process of listing is highly, if not essentially, politicized, with the result that some very surprising groups are listed.
Facilitating a terrorist activity is a very broadly defined crime. Notably, it is not necessary for the activity to be planned at the time of facilitation, nor for the terrorist activity to be actually carried out. Although the legislation stipulates that the person "knowingly" facilitate, they do not need to know that a particular terrorist activity is facilitated.
2) What does it mean if individuals are arrested on terrorism-related charges?
Despite the way the state and the media are portraying the recent arrests, just because people are arrested does not mean that they are guilty of any wrong-doing or even of any crime.
It is a cornerstone of the Canadian justice system that people are supposed to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. This goes for terrorism cases just as much as any other criminal case. There are, in fact, plenty of examples of intelligence and police agencies getting it completely wrong. Moreover, as noted above, Canadian anti-terrorism legislation is broadly defined and has the potential to capture activities that many would not consider to be wrong.
All these arrests mean is that the police have charged the individuals with breaking the law. These charges are not proven, but remain simple allegations.
3) Why are they in prison/under conditions if they haven’t been found guilty of anything?
Normally, those facing trial under criminal law are detained in prison with the possibility of being released on bail while they wait for the outcome of their trial. The accused will normally have bail hearings within the first weeks of their arrest.
Unfortunately, prejudiced attitudes, fear and political considerations do play into court decisions. This may mean that people accused of terrorism, who would be released if they were facing equally serious, but less sensationalized, charges, may be more likely to be kept in pre-trial detention. If they are not released at their initial hearing, they will be able to re-apply for release on bail later on.
If they are released pending the outcome of the trial, they can still be placed under strict conditions or even house arrest. These conditions can later be modified by the court on the request of either the defence or the Crown.
4) In how much detail should I talk about an accused whom I may know?
In general, whether in person, on the phone, on email or on facebook, it is important not to speculate or repeat facts about the accused, especially those that could pertain to the criminal accusations that have been laid. As they say, “loose lips sink ships”. This is not because any of the accused have anything to hide, but because you will have no control over how your comments could be interpreted, taken out of context, or even manipulated.
It is particularly important to avoid commenting on whether or not you think that an accused may have committed an offense they are being charged with. A mantra to keep in mind is that everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
While you should avoid speculating on the criminal charges laid against the accused, speaking in a humanizing way about the character of an accused and other aspects of their lives, as long as it isn't compromising (or personal!) information, may be helpful.
It is important to always keep in mind that electronic communications such as email and facebook may be stored in databanks accessible to security agencies or be under surveillance. A litmus test to apply when communicating by email or facebook is to consider whether any untoward consequences could come from your message being inadvertently forwarded to the wrong person or made public.
5) What do I do if someone I don't know asks me about an accused, related matters that have come up in the media, and what I think of the situation?
As a general rule, you are not under any obligation to talk with anyone about any of this simply because they ask you. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, there is nothing wrong with politely saying you don't feel comfortable talking about the situation.
It must be recognized that the current context has created a general atmosphere of suspicion, in which there can be a tendency to wonder whether people we don't know are journalists, police officers or even intelligence agents. At the same time, it is healthy and normal to discuss issues and questions that are of deep concern to our communities, and to maintain a positive openness to strangers and a confidence in others. It is a question of balancing mindfulness of the potential consequences of our words and avoiding gossip and speculation, as outlined above, while not allowing our basic trust in other people to be destroyed.
6) How do we build secure communities and not fall prey to paranoia?
Knowing that intelligence and police are keeping tabs on and even going so far as to infiltrate targeted communities should not make us paranoid. A spirit of paranoia can divide us and weaken our organizations and communities. While recognizing that there is active surveillance, we should resist spreading rumours and increasing levels of suspicion and fear. In these times, it is important to maintain solidarity.
While we should never allow ourselves to be silenced, it is obviously important to be mindful of what we say, avoiding loose talk and gossip that may be falsely construed and used against you or others.
7) Is it safe to go to the mosque?
It is important to resist the pressure to stay away from certain places (mosques, community centres, etc.) when you otherwise would have gone.
We must not allow our fundamental freedoms and rights – including the freedom of conscience and religion and of association - to be stripped away by the atmosphere of fear created by mainstream media and government officials.
Going to the mosque with family members or friends is one way to alleviate potential anxiety. Our safety lies in sticking together and not allowing ourselves to be divided, isolated or intimidated.
8) If I get involved with community and broader initiatives denouncing the racism and Islamaphobia around this issue - including the racism in media and readers' comments – will I come under surveillance?
Even though the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression are formally protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is an unfortunate reality that state surveillance, harrassment and infiltration of marginalised ethnic/religious/racialized communities, as well as social justice activists exists.
Although people should be mindful of this reality, we should not allow these tactics to silence us or prevent us from participating in projects, campaigns or protests for social justice. Not only is there nothing wrong with speaking out against racism and Islamophobia, we should confidently assume the responsibility to do so. If we don’t, who will?
9) What should I do if the police come to my door or ask to speak to me?
If police officers—from the RCMP or any provincial or municipal police force—approach you and want to talk to you, remember that you are never obliged to speak to the police. If you do not wish to talk to them, simply say so and close the door or walk away.
The police cannot force you to do anything unless they place you under arrest, which they cannot legally do unless there are reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed an offence. It is also illegal for them to search your home, car, community space or any other place unless they have a search warrant authorized by a judge.
You are not required to leave the premises in the event that your home is being searched with a valid search warrant. In fact, you are within your rights to observe the officers searching your home.
10) What should I do if the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) approaches me, my family, or my community?
CSIS is Canada’s principal intelligence agency, and it is often involved in gathering information about individuals, groups or communities before there is any indication that a crime may be committed.
People may come to the attention of CSIS for any number of reasons. In some instances, it may be due to their involvement or connections to an organization, initiative, or event. In some instances, it may be simply due to their membership in a targeted community. In general, there is no fail-safe way to ensure that you or your family won't be approached.
The People’s Commission Network advocates total non-collaboration with CSIS. That means refusing to answer questions from CSIS agents who show up at your door, refusing to listen to whatever CSIS may want to tell you, and breaking the silence by speaking out whenever CSIS comes knocking.
This is not a question of having nothing to hide nor of protecting our communities from random acts of violence. It is a matter of recognizing that you have no control over information that you give to CSIS: your words can be misunderstood, taken out of context, misrepresented, passed on to other agencies overseas (such as the CIA, Mossad, and the mukhabarat of various countries), and used in unjust processes (such as “terrorist lists”) as secret, unsourced evidence. It is also the case that CSIS is guided by domestic and international policies which do not take the interests of all communities into account.
Generally speaking, you are never obliged to talk to CSIS. CSIS has no power to force you to talk—or to listen—to them. They have no right to enter your home without your permission. You have the right to refuse to speak to them and ask them to leave.
If you are approached, the best way to keep CSIS from continuing to bother you is simply let them know you have nothing to say to them. CSIS looks for “sources of information” on various communities; if you refuse to speak to them, they will normally have little interest in coming back. If they persist in approaching you, ask them to contact a lawyer of your own choosing to set up a formal meeting or ask a lawyer to contact them on your behalf.
If you are in immigration proceedings and are called for a formal, mandatory, interview, or if you are in a vulnerable situation which makes you feel unable to refuse to speak to CSIS, we strongly advise you to insist that any interview with CSIS be conducted in the presence of a lawyer of your own choosing.
Above all, please remember to take care of each other during these times. CSIS visits can be upsetting and destabilizing. It is important that we stand together and support one another when CSIS visits occur and communities find themselves under surveillance.
If CSIS comes knocking (flyer in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Turkish):
CSIS visits videos (in English and French):
Top Ten Reasons not to Speak to CSIS (French, English, Turkish, Spanish):
11) What can I do about the profiling of my community and its members by CSIS and other agencies, and the anti-Muslim media coverage?
a) Write letters to the editor stating your objections to the racist framing of events and to media collusion in the targeting of Muslim communities.
b) Ask organizations you are involved in (community groups, unions, political parties) to issue statements denouncing Islamophobia, rejecting the use of evidence extracted through torture, and insisting that the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty be applied to all.
c) Encourage your networks to refuse any cooperation with CSIS and distribute CSIS Watch materials (website links above).
12) Where can I go for more information or help?
The following groups have a variety of materials with related information, may be able to give you advice or refer you to other organizations or lawyers that can help.
Muslim Council of Montreal (MCM):
Canadian Arab Federation (CAF):
Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIRCAN):
The People's Commission Network is a grassroots network initiated in 2005 to address the issue of immigration security measures, such as security certificates, and to combat the oppression carried out in the name of the "national security" agenda. It aims to bring together individuals and groups - such as immigrants, racialized communities, indigenous peoples, social justice organizations and labour unions – to share information and experiences, forge alliances, coordinate strategies and work together for justice and dignity. People's Commission Network is a QPIRG Concordia working group.
The People’s Commission Network is holding a popular forum, Whose Security? Our Security!, 4 to 6 February 2011 in Montreal. See our website for more information.
TO JOIN OUR NEWSLIST, SEND AN EMAIL TO
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
The Viva Palestina 5 convoy, which departed from London on Saturday, will be joined by participants from a number of countries before it eventually attempts to cross the Rafah border from Egypt into the besieged Palestinian territory.
"By the time the convoy reaches the Strip it will have grown from 15 vehicles to 150 - picking up support across Europe and the Arab world," she said. "Most of the journey will be over land, but the aid will be transferred to ships for transportation between Syria and Egypt. The aid workers hope to deliver their supplies through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza early next month."
Deadly raid remembered
Members of the convoy have planned to hold a remembrance ceremony as they pass the spot where Israeli troops conducted a deadly raid on another aid flotilla destined for Gaza on May 31.
Nine pro-Palestinian activists - eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen - were killed when Israeli troops boarded the Mavi Marmara ship.
Israel has insisted its commandos resorted to force after they were attacked on the deck of the boat, but activists on board say the soldiers opened fire as soon as they landed. Organisers of the Viva Palestina convoy said the actions of the Israeli army against the flotilla brought a change in international opinion against the seige on Gaza.
"Far from deterring people from seeking to bring that siege to an end, the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla is spurring on even more people to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and to end the blockade," the group said in a statement on its website.
"As a result Viva Palestina is launching 'Viva Palestina 5 - a global lifeline to Gaza' ... in conjunction with convoys leaving from Casablanca and Doha and timed to coordinate with a larger and even more international flotilla aiming to reach Gaza by sea at the same time as the land convoys reach by land."
Gaza closed off Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after the Palestinian group Hamas movement took control of the territory.
Gaza has been closed to virtually all supplies, and Palestinians inside the territory have had to deal with food shortages, lengthy power cuts and no cooking gas.
Israel has since eased its land border restrictions with the territory to allow through more civilian goods. But construction materials remain heavily restricted, Gazans have very limited freedom of movement, and Israel still enforces a naval blockade on the territory.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
this article was originally published here.
Darren Pearson is still on a crusade with his Vancouver 9/11 Truth Society.
By Carlito Pablo, September 9, 2010
Darren Pearson makes a point of being at Vancouver’s Robson Square on the 11th of every month.
He and his colleagues have been setting up shop at the downtown plaza for more than three years to distribute leaflets and DVDs commemorating an event that changed the world: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
But more than just remembering the almost 3,000 people who perished, including 24 Canadians, Pearson’s group is asking the question that refuses to die in the minds of many: was 9/11 an inside job?
According to the founding member of the Vancouver 9/11 Truth Society, being involved in such a cause involves some serious challenges.
“I guess alienating myself from some people that may have been friends at one time—that certainly becomes a part,” Pearson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “And even family members, for that matter.”
But it has its rewards. According to Pearson, he has received notes from people who feel that they’ve been enlightened. “I feel that I have been recognized by individuals who have said that I have changed their lives,” he said.
Largely ignored by media and shunned by other activist groups, 9/11 truth societies have managed to keep their crusade alive. That’s largely because of the Internet and social media, according to Mario Canseco, vice president of communications with Angus Reid Public Opinion.
“We need to remember that it’s easier now to tell a story than it ever was because of social media, because of blogs, because of Twitter,” Canseco told the Straight in a phone interview. “It’s never been as easy as it is now to deal with ways to get your message across. Not only that, it’s not just putting something out there but actually connecting with people who feel the same way you do.”
About two years ago, Canseco’s company conducted a survey on public perceptions of 9/11. The results showed that 34 percent of Canadians believed that the U.S. government “let” the attacks happen. While 29 percent thought that the administration of then–American president George W. Bush had no prior knowledge, 16 percent of Canadians believed that the U.S. “made” the attacks, and 21 percent were undecided.
“We’re basically talking about almost one in four Canadians who think that the collapse of the World Trade Center was a result of a controlled demolition,” Canseco said.
According to SFU history professor Mark Leier, it’s a “natural human thing” to have theories that events like 9/11 or the 1963 assassination of then–U.S. president John F. Kennedy or even the car accident that caused the death of Princess Diana in Paris in 1997 are the handiwork of powerful people in government.
“They are so out of the ordinary and so surprising that they push people to try to find explanations that make the whole thing somehow fit into a pattern that they can get their hands around,” Leier told the Straight by phone. “And so for a lot of people, the idea that, say, George Bush would engineer the attacks on the World Trade Center is somehow more plausible to them than the idea that people could be extremely angry at America for its actions in other parts of the world.”
Lee Moller of the B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry has one quick response to claims that 9/11 was perpetrated by the American government.
“The government is made up of tens of thousands of people, and they’ve all got different motivations, so it’s almost impossible to imagine that the government could pull off something like this and have nobody find out about it,” Moller told the Straight by phone.
But for Pearson, looking for alternative answers is a quest for “justice, I suppose, on some level”.
On Saturday (September 11), Pearson’s group won’t just be giving out leaflets and DVDs. They’ll have a full-day event starting at 10 a.m. in Room C225 at UBC Robson Square, featuring live speakers, conversations via Skype with famous 9/11 truth seekers like American architect Richard Gage, film showings, music, question-and-answer sessions, a raffle, and a silent auction.
Do you think the U.S. government played a role in the 9/11 attacks?
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
From: IFCO / Pastors for Peace
It is with immeasurable sadness that we write to let you know of the passing of our beloved, heroic, prophetic leader Rev. Lucius Walker Jr. this morning. We will write with more information as soon as arrangements are made. Please keep his family and his IFCO family in your prayers.
I had the great pleasure to meet and work with Lucius during the 2008 and 2009 caravans to Cuba. He is considered a hero there, yet he remained modest - always exemplifying IFCO's philosophy that the work we are doing to challenge injustice is not to be heralded as heroism, but is the merely a natural response, something we all ought to do whenever and wherever we find people in need of our help.
In this photo we were visiting a senior's centre in Havana, a rarity in Cuba where most elders are taken care of by their families. This place was founded by the elder gentlemen to the left of Lucius, to serve those who have no families to care for them, and I got the impression that it would not exist if not for the work of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and their annual caravans breaking the US economic blockade and bringing aid to the people of Cuba.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Site C will destroy wildlife habitat, agricultural land, & people’s homes.
To power air conditioners in California & to fuel expansion of destructive oil & gas exploration in Northern BC.
On September 19, First Nations and local community members from the Peace River Valley will Paddle to Victoria to deliver a message to the Premier to Stop the Site C Dam!
SEPT. 19, 2010
10 am at the Legislature. Featuring David Suzuki!
Organized by Wilderness Committee, the Peace Valley Environmental Association, Sierra Club BC and Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, and West Moberly First Nations.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I’m on an island not unlike my own home .... at least, what my own island home might have looked like a hundred years ago before it was all "developed."
I’m surrounded by water, mountains, and a thriving cedar/fir/pine forest. Many arbutus trees, and salal bushes and berries. Wild deer and rabbits, squirrels and birds. The people speak a slightly different language and use a slightly different currency, but the native artwork I’ve seen, and the sense of community necessary to survive island life is very familiar.
They call this Orcas Island and I’m here for a meditation retreat my friend organized. My impressions of this place are probably heavily romanticized, given that I’m living in a space that might have been modeled on the imaginary place I visit before I go to sleep at night. There are individual cabins where my friends might live or find solace, and a central building for communal feasting and celebrating. There’s a huge firepit with bench seating and a small stage where musicians or other artists might perform. Of course there’s a large organic garden with everything from walnut trees to wheat fields, and marked trails along the waterfront cliffs and through the forest. Lots of space for yoga, and good reading from the library.
This place is called Indralaya, and it’s owned and operated by the Theosophical Society. I’m not here for a Theosophical workshop, although I did meet my spiritual friend at a Theosophical event more than a decade ago. Exploring my spirituality at that time, I was drawn to the Theosophical philosophy which “is dedicated to preserving and realizing the ageless wisdom, which embodies both a world view and a vision of human self-transformation.” They believe that life, the universe, and everything are interrelated and interdependent, that every existent being – “from atom to galaxy – is rooted in the same universal, life-creating Reality,” which “reveals itself in the purposeful, ordered, and meaningful processes of nature as well as in the deepest recesses of the mind and spirit.”
What I particularly like about the theosophists, and my friend, is that there’s no mention of capital G God. I’m not asked to believe in it, neither am I asked to “just interpret” the word so it fits my own beliefs. That “just interpret” takes a lot of time and energy, since the capital G word is so loaded with patriarchal tradition.
So I’m not being asked to believe in anything invisible, unbelievable, or what might be regarded as clinically insane - ie doing whatever the voices in my head suggest, which might include sacrificing my son.
An aside …. I’m beginning wonder how many of the great teachers were born of “single” women. I’ve been reading Mr Iyengar’s book, The Tree of Yoga, and learned that the great Indian sage Patanjali was born to a woman with no husband. Jesus had Joseph around after his birth, but would have been alone in feeling Mary’s torment knowing that she had been outcast for her pregnancy. Of course there was that convenient “virgin birth” story to help with his PTSD, but maybe there’s something unique and special about men whose primary role model is their mother?
What I am asked to believe in, here at this meditation retreat on this gorgeous island, is myself. My own Self. Quieting my busy mind, finding the source of myself, and listening.
Okay, I’m all relaxed and in tune with myself, I’ve read George Bernard Shaw’s satirical play, Arms and the Man, and re-read much of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and I’m feeling a bit anxious to get home and back to work. My feelings of internet withdrawal are subsiding somewhat, but it’s disconcerting to have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the world. None. There’s no radio, no tv, no internet, no newspapers. The world could be exploding around me as I sit here, on this balcony facing the rising sun, listening to the birds and squirrels and deer making their morning noises and foraging for food.
I feel very privileged, and guilty for it. My spiritual friend assures me these feelings of compassion and concern for others are the result of a mature soul that lives with a deep connection to its own cosmic karma, evolved over lifetimes.
This is not one of those thousand dollar retreats, with a strict guru who insists on 100% participation and rigidity of process and belief. We five participants have been asked to cover my friend’s travel and lodging expenses, but other than that she offers her many years of wisdom for free. Charging money for spiritual knowledge and understanding, she believes, is not in keeping with her belief system. I will offer her a donation, and I’m guessing the others will too. But we’re encouraged to remember she’s the only one who absolutely has to show up for the scheduled meditations each day, the rest of us are encouraged to relax our minds and our bodies in whatever way we feel we can best do that. Falling asleep in meditation is perfectly fine, what greater relaxation can one find that sleep, and if we feel called to wander in nature rather than attend any of the meditation classes, that’s what we must do.
My friend is the real deal, and this Indralaya place also seems genuinely motivated to make itself accessible, asking for fees ($25 a night) only to cover its own costs and offering an opportunity to work in exchange for full fees. I’ve cleaned two cabins so far, from top to bottom, small wooden rustic dwellings with wood burning stoves, relatively comfortable beds, a dresser, and a writing table. They’re very quaint little cabins, and I think about all the people who’ve attended various workshops and been transformed (it’s impossible not to be) by this place.
I’m staying in the roundhouse with the other four participants and our teacher. We have central heating, we each have our own bedroom with a door that locks, and we share three bathrooms. There’s a small kitchen here, and we’re also sharing a kitchen in a cabin to the south of us. The library, where we meditate, is just to the north. Surrounding us are 50+ acres of beautiful forest lands with beach access. It’s quiet, wild, and beautiful.
Yesterday, after one of our sessions, the discussion (we only talk after our class sessions) brought me to query aloud my own need to balance the personal need for this time away, this restorative few days, with the urgent work that is constant and unrelenting. Sure we’re all unique individuals, connected to the divine universe, but some individuals are making life rather horrible for others – they’re making war, destroying the planet, killing and torturing. It feels strange to be lazing about meditating while people are suffering, while the earth is being destroyed for profit.
My friend assured us, prior to answering our queries, that she doesn’t know all the answers. She’s happy to share her beliefs which are shaped by many years of meditation and study. We talked about reincarnation, about karma between and within lifetimes, about those younger souls who’ve yet to learn the lessons of greed and avarice and other temptations of flesh and earthly existence. We shared stories of activism, of feelings of frustration and anger that often result when our non-cooperation is met with state sanctioned violence. We learned of double-blind studies that have proven that sending energy through prayer to sick people does in fact result in speedier recoveries, and how a collective shift in consciousness is possible. We talked about resisting the temptation to respond to injustice with anger, since that brings pollution to our own individual spiritual environment.
We were assured that a great change is underway. During the 60s, my friend said, even mentioning the word “meditation” could lead you to the looney bin. Nowadays, many young people seek the pure spiritual path, abandoning the churchiarchy and its program. The collective energy of those seeking to create and maintain peace in those own inner and outer worlds will expand to a collective refusal to engage with anger and violence to each other or the earth.
I’m not entirely convinced. I mean, I do believe that we can’t know peace in the world until we know peace in ourselves, and that learning to live truly in each moment, without judgement, is a fantastic way of being. But my work every day reveals that those who judge, who are enthralled with the earthly trappings, they have much of the power and a lot of media control. It makes sense that younger souls who believe that fame and fortune are the path to happiness are also the ones to seek that power, and then they do all they can to justify and maintain it. But it’s frustrating, banging heads with them as we frantically work to salvage the last of earth’s ancient forests, to move away from a war economy, as climate crises erupt casting more and more into despair and shock doctrine capitalists capitalize off those less fortunate. Thinking of these as “babies,” my friend suggests, is what keeps her sane. Babies poop in their diapers because they don’t know any better. Eventually they’ll grow, and learn.
I don’t know all the answers either. But I do feel that I have lived many lifetimes on this earth, that I have learned many great lessons, and that’s why I’ve never been attracted to the acquisition of land, for example, or the collection of many earthly things. Let me be clear - I don’t feel that being an older soul makes me better, just different. I’ve made mistakes in this life too, but thankfully I’m not caught in an endless loop of them.
My friend was a peace activist in the 60s, one of many awakened youth protesting the Vietnam war. They believed themselves victorious after the war “ended,” but when the bombing of Cambodia began, my friend realized this war thing just goes on and on and she began searching for answers in the spiritual realm. She now believes her life’s work is to help others find their own inner peace, and she references Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and probably lots of other traditions, throwing in analogies from her own life and experiences, but she doesn’t preach their gospel.
She reminded us, a few times, how western philosophy encourages us to feel as though we’re not enough – we’re not working hard enough, we’re not succeeding enough, we’re never quite enough. She encouraged us to work continually, through meditation, to feel differently – to forgive ourselves for whatever mistakes we’ve made, hurting others and ourselves, along the way, to accept ourselves for who we are, to realize that we are all individuals but we’re also all connected to a divinity that is everywhere. There is no place that is not divine, that is not infused with love. There are lessons to be learned from whatever situation we find ourselves in, and if we can find this peace, this divinity and love, within ourselves then we are free. They can take our bodies, but they can’t take our souls.
Meditation is awesome. Taking time away from our busy lives to just be with ourselves, to check in, to practice yoga and silence, is fantastic. I’m really very grateful to have had the opportunity, but now it’s time to get back to work.