Saturday, September 20, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 14, 2008

Check ins. People are transitioning back into school, some into new employment, others are dealing with serious family health issues.

Intros of new people.

We heard Stephen P’s Story.

Discussion revolved around growing up in isolated privilege and coming to awareness of injustice and social inequality and the gifts that come with that awareness.

Dexter led us in a discussion around how we are progressing as a group. His summary of where we’ve come included the notions that
1. We are an intentional group
2. We are en engaged group

We are committed to this engagement in the sense that we embrace the challenge of embracing the challenge of staying together. When one of us “makes a mistake” and others call us on it, do we return the next week, gather ourselves and return the following week or lick our wounds and disappear?

Full engagement in each others lives is how we will move forward as well as finding the balance between spirituality and social justice. He reminded us that we are the only group of this kind anywhere in this community-not with this level of open membership.

Someone said that as one who is less comfortable with pursuing spirituality, they have personally benefitted from the discussions of Buddism and meditation.

Others cautioned that spirituality and religion can cause problems within an organization because everyone has a different idea about who/what God is.

Several said that religion and spirituality should not be used synonymously and that social justice work is spiritual work and fulfills that space for them.

One person mentioned trying to meet at 1pm on Sundays for awhile to see if that works better for folks who are attending church.

Others talked about how this group fulfills their spiritual needs.

One person talked about the consumptive appetites of so many religious traditions and not being willing to give all that one is to that tradition. But so many of us DO seek connectedness with other people and as this group grows and sustains itself, not having that consumptive appetite grow as well.

Another talked about how the diversity of spiritual traditions in our group means that we can all access wisdom and support from each other without it becoming something that we push on one another. We are spiritual and we are also free in that we accept each other’s spiritual diversity.

Friday night was offered as an option as well, being the end of the week. Another thought that there are people who would enjoy coming but not necessarily every week. Maybe the Sunday at 1 could be once a month, and those who are more committed could come every Sunday.

One person said that they get satisfaction form the group as it is, though some small changes could make the facilitation of discussions even better.

Another point made was that while religion and spirituality should not be heavily emphasized, we should not ever make any subject taboo as long as we keep our commitment to respectful discussion.

One person suggested that we each talk with those we know who have not been coming to get a feel for why. It may not always be about church conflicts.

Another point was about how people often are religious hypocrites-actions speak louder than words. Sometimes we have excuses for not coming that we just need to get over. Those of us that are here are those of us that will be here.

Dexter wrapped up by saying that there is no desire necessarily to make a campaign to “get anybody back” it’s more about sitting with an individual to make sure that we didn’t do anything as a group that felt like an injustice to them. We do operate as adults and people vote with their feet all the time.

The academic perspective that he brings is that we do need to hear “the other side” even if we do not agree so he will not be a member of the group that says it will only talk with democrats.

Another comment was about not needing to go out and recruit those with very different views, but welcoming and respecting those who come to us with differing viewpoints should be our goal.


SoJust has met it’s fundraising goal of $3,500. Lineup is ready, posters done. Anyone with suggestions for community organizations to table at SoJust, let Sonja or another SoJust committee member know.

MLK committee decided to go ahead again and partner with Associated Ministries as fiscal agent. Still need to identify honorees.

Elizabeth Wesley Youth Merit Incentive Awards Celebration
1PM on Sat. Sept. 20th at Clover Park Technical College Sharon McGavick Center

Achievement Gap Summit II on Oct. 18th at UPS

Tacoma Civil Rights Project exhibit is on display at the Washington History Museum until Dec. 7th

Friday, September 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 7, 2008


We met in Wright Park, which at 9:30 was covered with soft, thin clouds, trees shimmering in a soft breeze, almost 60 Fahrenheit but due to rise to about 67 by the time we are finished.

Check-in found many people working with the transition to the start of the school year. Many people who do not work directly in education have schedules that vibrate with the rhythms of school. Several people were able to get to the Friday screening of the film that accompanies the Tacoma Civil Rights Project.

Today we heard Tina’s story.

In the ensuing discussion we looked at one event when, quite unintentionally and obliquely, a question brought to the surface a pervasive assumption about who belongs in a community.

In these times when political life offers discouraging revelations about the country, participants said, it is good to hear stories of personal courage in standing up to nonsense. Several of us nodded our heads at a reference to situations where, later, we wished we had spoken up.

One person pointed out that racist language is coded. Public discourse is permeated with references to ‘nice people’ and similar ideas that do not need to be expanded for others to understand.

Today we heard from Callista on “meditation within chaos,” an assigned title.

Why would someone meditate? In the tradition she described (one brought to the United States by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, or for short, Trungpa), we meditate in order to open ourselves to possibilities in the world. We began with a demonstration, with people following guidance on a meditation technique—mindfulness, attention to the out-breath, letting the in-breath simply happen. If thoughts arise, simply label them ‘thinking’ and go back to attention on the out-breath. Eyes should be open with a soft gaze several feet in front.

We then discussed what people noticed during the technique.

Using this and related techniques aim at providing a stable mind—quieting the chatter that goes on in almost everyone’s brains. The chatter is a barrier to deeper insights about how one is thinking and experiencing the world. For example, we habitually move to judgment in particular situations, and these techniques can provide awareness of how our mind has these habits.

We don’t meditate in order to become good meditators. It is about discovering how our minds work.

Why do people start meditating? One experience offered to the group: There was a public meeting with members of an intentional community with contemplative leanings, and at the start of the meeting they asked for two minutes of silence. The participant saw something to which she had been oblivious—physical pain and emotional tension. It was a sign that everyday life is often obscure to us, and our responses can be more aware. Many people begin to meditate in response to particular trauma, such as the loss of someone close or a severe illness.

At a presentation some time ago Dale Asrael told a story from a book called Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach, about a tiger in a zoo in Washington DC: The tiger was in a small cage, and visitors would see it tracing the limits of its restricted environment. Some visitors organized to create a new enclosure that had features of a more natural setting. On the day the tiger was offered access to the new area, it marked out a square the size of the old cage, and it spent all its days tracing the boundaries of that imaginary small space. It was not able to live outside of its old habits.

And most of us share some qualities of mind with the tiger, and we stay with the world we think we know. The habitual cage of our own making can be left. We can step out of it. This approach to meditation aims at enabling people to do that.

When people find some value in this aspect of meditation, some people adopt it as a path. Its benefits is offered less as a one-time revelation of a different state of mind, but as a path for living that pays explicit attention to qualities of mind.

In the tradition described in Callista’s talk, there are three phases in the path. The Hiniyana (“small vehicle” or “narrow vehicle”) has one focus on their own suffering and their release from it.

The Mahayana (“great vehicle”) has one focus on the possibility of releasing other beings, all beings, from their suffering. The phase emphasizes wisdom (in significant part by becoming aware of “emptiness,” much like the tiger did not recognize the space around, the potential for other action, right action, to occur. ) and compassion (many techniques are used to develop compassion toward other beings, other people). The suffering of others is chiefly the result of ignorance, such as a lack of awareness of that emptiness that makes many things possible. It is not to be labeled as evil. Practitioners develop a willingness to live in the chaos around us, to acknowledge the confusion that we and others live in. That means, in part, not slamming others with it. One can be compassionate toward others before they clean up their act.

The Vajrayana (indestructible vehicle”) phase of the path relies on techniques that encourage “sacred outlook,” an encounter with direct experience—lie the tiger was not able to do. It is the responsibility of the practitioner to find in situations the sacred part, and find ways to work with it. Practitioners see emotions, for example, as energy, which means one tries not to judge them. They try to be open, to not have an agenda that one tries to impose on others.

For another day, perhaps: the Shambhala yana, which is a focus on creating an enlightened society.

The grounding in compassion is an essential part of this, as there is a danger that people see the techniques as a path to power. It is something that one does, as mentioned before, a path. Daily practice keeps reminding practitioners of the basics. Part of the tradition, also, is having a teacher, one who knows you and can call you on your games. Another part of it is being part of a community, called a sangha.

Several participants commented on the analysis of ignorance in this depiction of meditation. There are many facets to it.

There is no formula for how long it takes to get good at these meditation techniques—some can be good at it relatively soon, and others can find roadblocks that just stop them, teachers leave and die…. The chief variables might be the ability to clear out one’s life to find room for the work, having some personal discipline, and being in the community that supports it.

One participant reported a similar encounter with life changes—more positive to think about creating new habits than in defining one’s current practices as bad habits, and that a teacher is essential to calling one on their games, and disciplined practice to have the new habits settle into life—much like a disturbed pond whose turbid waters settle into clarity.

Starting next week, we are back to Evergreen.

V team members should expect to stick around next week to do some planning. Some fundamental things need to be discussed—who we want to be as a community, the social justice connection in what we do, as well as housekeeping matters such as time and place of meetings.

Sept 23, Kings Books, 7 pm, talk about economics of global warming.
Sept 26, Kings Books, 7 pm, a talk about Iran.
Oct 17 Steve and Christy will perform at Kings Books at 7 pm.

Yesler community center, in Seattle, 10-2, Disability Empowerment Day event, Sept 20.

Adult college fair at Evergreen campus in Tacoma, representatives Sept 13 from 9:30-1:30.

October 18, Achievement Gap Summit II, Save the Date.

Conversation Recap for August 31, 2008

We met in Wright Park. People wore coats, hats, and some brought gloves. August….

In pre-meeting conversations, a participant extolled the Chambers Creek golf course walk. Don’t be put off by the idea that you are going to walk by a golf course. This is a great local resource, try it.

SoJust note: Fundraising is coming along, a variety of artists, SAVE THE DATE Location: The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus (6th and MLK)
October 4, 2008
Evergreen Tacoma
1210 6th Avenue

Traveling soon? Check the info available on our own Dalton’s website, at, for a powerful search engine for flights etc. There is more to the business at

We shared a lot of job stories during check-in, some with new jobs, some with challenges in current ones, some doing new things in the old job. Plus, we heard from eyewitness accounts from the Democratic National Convention.

We heard from Eve on “paradoxes of urban living.” Here are a couple:
--The city’s lure of wealth and resources, AND the perils that exist in the streets.
--Our great instinct for community, AND our increasing ability to express it in ways that separate us from each other.

One can be so separated from other people living in close proximity. Three shared stories about the bargains of city life, how some places we live everyone knows everyone else, and others where long-term neighbors are strangers.

For an example of someone who tries to help people construct community through the conduct
One participant described growing up in row houses in Philadelphia, with porches as gathering places, and with frequent block parties. Yet the crack era of the 1980s broke that up a bit, and the violence and fear that came with it imposed a heavy burden on community. Great fear of others, distrust—these are the real barriers to community. By comparison, Tacoma does not seem urban.

One participant described the experience of moving from a small town to the “stalls” of apartment life. In the modern world, we do not take in others, not near as much.

Multiple participants discussed a lost ability to feel responsible for others, the sense that we are our brothers keeper seemed to be stronger in earlier times and in other places. Don’t expect to be able to move to those earlier places, however. The modern zoned country filled with 3 to 5 acre plots do not feel like the small places of our youth.

One participant juxtaposed that with the quick community possible among folks who have shared an experience. You have all seen a version of this. After a convention speech in a huge stadium, lots of people piled onto a train to get on with their evening…. Quick warmth, lots of people in cheerful conversation with folks they just met. Maybe it doesn’t take much to accept such offers of community.

A long time ago, some of us lived on farms, with no close neighbors. Yet we frequently connected with those neighbors. The urge for community does not have obvious rules about proximity.

One story about an apartment house that was the closest community a participant had ever seen—it was not clear what it was that produced the closeness. The trust among people was quite high.

One participant introduced the topic of how community is a commodity, commercialized in advertisement. Concepts of urban living are in part shaped by people who want your money. They want us to see private consumption as a path to community (remember the old rule: the object of an addition never satisfies the addiction). This is one of those paradoxes—the dynamism of capitalism gives much and imposes large costs.

Several participants shared memories of when things changed where they lived—when folks starting locking things up, how the disconnection among neighbors grew.

Near the end of the discussion it turned out that several participants had been thinking about the possibilities of intentional communities, particularly as a way to handle those years when we get older, when children are long gone, and so on.

The discussions produced some wise rules.
--If you find something to be hateful, don’t do it to your neighbors.
--Get into the business of your neighbors more often—there are little things you can do to sow seeds of compassion.

Go out and inflict joy on someone.