For, I never remember a day when I didn't think that this world was fucked up. Part of this came from my parents who both dedicated their lives to helping others, to contributing to the world and community. But I have always been a “sensitive” being and even as a young girl, I saw the inequities of race, class, gender, sexuality. I didn't understand why other people could stand by and watch without doing something. I traveled around the world visiting several continents before I was 20 years old. I lived in a village in the Gambia, West Africa for a summer without running water or toilets. I worked towards a degree in Political Science with the intention to go to law school and become a lobbyist in Washington D.C. What happened?
In my senior year of college, I went to Washington DC for a program through American University which included an internship. I started out working for a fundraising organization. It was disgusting to see how things in Washington DC were really working. Walking the streets where homeless people were having to sleep in the snow while inside people fattened themselves on “pork bellies”. I wasn't actually that surprised but it was hard to see with my own eyes. And, then my supervisor started coming on to me. Every time I walked into his office he would make some sort of remark about how I looked or how he thought of me. So, I left and changed internships.
I appealed to the congressman from the district I lived in to finish out my internship in his offices at the Capitol building. Vic Fazio was a good man and efficient politician who did a lot of good things during his time in Washington. And, yet it was crystal clear that you had to get your hands dirty and play the game in order to get anything done. One of my jobs was to answer the phones and letters from people who wrote the congressman. I was instructed in this protocol: 1) Do they live in the district, if not, ignore 2) Tell them what they want to hear regardless of the congressman's record. After a short review of the letters I wrote, we would then stamp the congressman's name onto the bottom and mail them out.
I have a vivid memory of when I actually lost hope and gave up my plans. I was walking through a light snow storm with a huge gift basket full of wine and delectables. It was a gift from the congressman to another congressman who had voted with him on something. I passed numerous homeless people sitting in the snow as I walked by with the basket of goodies that came from one priviliged person to another. I lost hope...
I came back to my college and dropped plans to go to law school. And, then the Gulf War, “Operation Desert Shield” broke out. When the bombing begun, I stayed up for almost a week night and day glued to the television. The horror of what the United States was doing. In the beginning we were bombing Iraq from aircraft carriers so we didn't have to actually witness the death and destruction ourselves. These days, thanks to technology and social media, we would have been able to see it on the ground. But, in those days we only saw and heard what the major news outlets were covering. My hope for the future, for change, for my ability to effect change was decimated.
I saw a poster in the student union one day that said, “Teach English in Japan”, so without any other plan...I did. I left the country three months after I graduated from college. I had never really had an interest in Japan before but something drew me there. I planned to stay one year and ended up living there for three years in Tokyo. One of the most profound experiences I had living there was the lack of fear of violence. There are very few guns in Japan. This is partly as a result of the reparations after World War II. Japan agreed to not have a standing army and so as a result the United States provides much of its security. Perhaps it is also because it is a primarily Buddhist country, but guns are very difficult to come by and strictly regulated. Even police do not carry guns. As a result, I could walk around at any time of the day or night anywhere in the vast city of Tokyo and feel at ease. For a young woman, this was a revolution. My boyfriend who was Japanese explained it like this. As a very homogenous culture, Japanese perceive that anyone that they encounter could be their mother, their aunt, their sister, their child. And, so they treat them as such. This was over twenty years ago that I lived there so things may have changed. But, this was my experience.
And, yet when the decision came to whether I would marry my Japanese boyfriend and stay there and raise children, I couldn't do it. I made the decision to come back to the United States to live. But, I remained apolitical for many many years. I didn't even vote because I didn't feel like my vote was meaningful. The election that I came back out to vote in was in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Do you remember what happened! It turned out that my vote didn't matter. Voter fraud and the electoral college system saw to that. So once again I checked out of politics.
The good news though was in 2000 I checked into yoga. I checked into a dedicated spiritual practice devoted to cultivating non-violence, truth, and continence in myself. In the time that the young people of today were born and grew into the leaders of the future, I have spent the last 17 years dedicating more and more of my time, energy and life to spiritual practice.
As some of you know, I am on the brink of another big shift in my life. I am moving away from the Bay Area, out of a life of comfort to an unknown. I am starting my journey by going to the Hawaiian islands and plan to travel around the islands and other places for about a year. I do know people in the places I am going and I have an enormous amount of support and a network of friends and colleagues. But, I don't have a job or a set plan. I am sloughing off most of my belongings getting them down to about six large storage bins (mostly books!) But, this time I am not checking out...I am checking in.
I know with conviction that the best and only way to change the world is to transform myself. There are many ways to do this but I know for myself at this time that it needs to come with deep, private introspection. Allowing myself to let go of all the identities, hopes, dreams, and fears of who I have been or thought I was. Placing myself in a situation where I can allow life to unfold rather than planning and making things happen. And, I also know that in this way that I will also be playing my role in the future.
We don't all have to take to the streets or live our lives publicly to transform the world. We each have to play the role that we came her to play to the best of our ability. And, that role is a moving target! I want to express deep gratitude to the young people who are stepping up now publicly. We are creating role models in individuals, but they keep reminding us that it is not about any one individual, it is about us all. The dystopian future of science-fiction novels is already here. But, together, we will overcome. That is our only hope. We are one tribe, interdependent on one another.
And so I leave the continent once again but this time I am not checking out, I am deeply checking in so I can hold space for the the future generations to come. Shoring myself up so that I have he capacity to be deep and wide like the ocean.
May all beings be happy and have all the causes of happiness
May all beings be free from suffering and all its causes
May all beings feel safe
May all beings be liberated, liberated, liberated