Outer and Inner Journeys for Change

gg-bridge-wristband-smallAs an activist, there were many options for events in my community that responded to the installation of the president, coinciding with others across the planet where people were standing up for a kind and just world. I planned my day to begin with public action and to close with private reflection.

My friend Neal and I capitalized on the publicity that comes from being atop a global icon—the Golden Gate Bridge. A group called Bridge Together Golden Gate organized a human chain emphasizing love and compassion over hate and fear. With a permit for a peaceful demonstration, thousands of us came to join hands along the walkway. We draped ourselves in purple, a color symbolizing opposition to bullying.

peaceful-patriot-on-gg-bridge-1-20-17-smallA peaceful patriot

As evidenced by the many tourists who flock to the bridge with their daydreams of warm, sunny California and end up shivering even on sunny days, the Golden Gate Bridge is rarely a place for a balmy stroll. It’s the edge of the continent. You have to be committed to head out on the span and stand around for a couple hours when it’s 50 degrees during one of the rainiest Januarys on record. So it was impressive that 3,500 people showed up.

I bundled up in longjohns, a fleece jacket, two hats, and raingear. Over all that I draped my purple thrift store finds, a couple of scarves and an oversized sports jersey that would fit over everything.

neal-and-beverly-at-gg-bridge-demonstration-1-20-17-small
With my friend Neal—no, I didn’t gain weight, just covered in many layers

It was inspiring to be around so many positive-minded people standing together in a message of unity, an energizing way to begin the first day of being part of the resistance.

gg-bridge-purple-brigade-1-20-17-smallReadying to join hands during a welcome break in the rain

Afterwards, recognizing the importance of building my inner strength for the long haul of the next few years, I attended Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Inauguration Day Community Gathering in the evening. Making the transition from activity to contemplation, I got there early to savor the quiet before others arrived.

spirit-rock-community-hall-1-20-17-smallspirit-rock-buddha-statue-1-20-17-smallMore than 300 of us came together at Spirit Rock. Listening to several Buddhist teachers and singing together helped me ground in the dharma. Early in the evening, we were asked if anyone wanted to share why they came. I shocked myself as I discovered I felt none of my usual discomfort with public speaking before strangers, raised my hand, and took the microphone.

I said something along the lines of: “I am here because to be an effective activist, I need to take care of my inner life as well as my outer one. I know how important it is to keep my heart open, and I want to make sure I remember that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.” From the murmurs in response, I apparently touched a chord for others.

The teachers emphasized drawing from mindfulness and compassion while embracing being outraged or heartbroken, resolving to act in the face of injustice and environmental threats while continuing to embrace joy and beauty in the world. During our periods of meditation, I closed my eyes and settled into the silence.

The essential elements for moving forward are clear. Combining mindful action with the space for reflection. Being part of a movement, and rooting in the earth alone on a trail. Drawing on the energy and power from working with others across the spectrum of diverse humanity, and finding a quiet time to retreat and restore. Remembering, again and again, that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.

I’ve taken my first steps, and I’m committing to the unfolding journey.

spirit-rock-wall-painting-of-buddhas-1-20-17-small

From Charleston to Castro Street

Glide Description-Unconditionally

Glide, Unconditionally

Last week, I filed silently into Glide Memorial Church on an evening after work. Inside the church sanctuary and adjacent to the entrance, I walked past the memorial posters with photos and names—Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. Their faces were spread across the first pew, reserved entirely for them.

I found a spot in the middle of the many rows and took my seat. I looked around at the rainbow spectrum of people surrounding me. Eventually there were more than 350 of us. We had come to honor the nine people murdered in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, targeted because they were African American. I guessed that others there were like me, not knowing any of the dead personally. Yet we had all come to honor them as our kin.

Waiting quietly for the vigil to begin, I felt immediately at home despite typically having no connection to churches. Fifty feet above me were timbers installed in 1929 and painted with pastel flowers. The stained glass windows featured flowing patterns in bright greens, blues, reds. Banners hung around the perimeter. “We are all precious and accepted.” “Justice.” “Liberation.”

My tears started with the first words from the man who began the ceremony. Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned “Love Heals,” he told us, “We did not come here to tear down—we came here to lift people up. Thank you for your head and your heart. We will not break up. We will put together.” He read a powerful poem about his personal experience as an African American and concluded by leading us all in a chant, “Black lives matter.”

One by one, individuals stepped up to the altar to light a candle. Nine times, a flame was lit in tall green cylinders set on a bright green tapestry with two large red hearts. After each one, a speaker picked up a poster and showed us the photo while reading about the person whose life was taken. Between the readings, we all paused in silence to the chime of a metal singing bowl, reminiscent of the Buddhist retreats I have attended.

At tables around the church were Action Stations—places to share condolences with the Emanuel African Methodist Church, write letters to the South Carolina legislature to remove the Confederate flag, create a patch for a quilt of comfort and solidarity, take signs of protest and hope to share, record a video of what needed to be said, and a brainstorming list of “pathways/future actions to challenge racist structures and systems.”

Grief was just the first step. As the evening’s printed program said, it was a time to remember and a time to act.

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The following morning, when the news of the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage was announced early in the day West Coast time, the Bay Area community exploded in jubilation.

Just minutes after I awakened, horns were honking around town, even the boats in the harbor. At work, we cried and laughed and hugged each other. On the eve of Pride weekend, people flocked to San Francisco City Hall and Castro Street in spontaneous parties. Everywhere there was a celebration, whether it was at someone’s desk or filling the street. We smiled and greeted strangers, with a tangible flood of joy for the whole weekend.

On an ordinary weekday afterward, I found myself drawn to a personal pilgrimage alone, to express my gratitude more privately.

In the 1970s, 575 Castro Street in San Francisco was Harvey Milk’s photography shop and LGBT activist hub. It was the center for launching the campaign of the nation’s first openly gay man elected to prominent public office as well as a national movement—and the epicenter for events that ultimately led to Harvey’s assassination.

For the first time after decades living in the area, I visited the former camera store. Although it’s been nearly 37 years since Harvey’s death and Castro Camera is long gone, I needed to come here to honor his memory and the success he helped create. Today, the building is the home of the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store.

Harvey Milk-575 Castro Street door signSign on the front door of 575 Castro Street honoring Harvey Milk

Inside, among the clothing and mugs for sale, Harvey’s spirit was celebrated in photos and videos. On the wall was the quote that showed he knew what he was risking: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door.”

It didn’t feel right to leave without buying something to further the cause. I left with a small rainbow pin for the bulletin board at my desk.

Standing on busy Castro Street outside, I said a silent thank you to Harvey. No candles, poems, or chimes this time. Just the tears.

A rainbow pin now prompts me to remember what one woman shared during the Glide vigil. “Love is more powerful than hate. We can overcome. We have practiced over decades radical acceptance. We are the hope. We must continue.”

Learn about the important work of Glide and the Human Rights Campaign.

UPDATE:  I shared this post with Glide to express my appreciation, and they added it to the Glide blog. I am deeply honored.

Gray and Blue Day

It is the season of gray sky and the sound of wings, quacks and cackles. I journey to California’s wetlands as I do each winter to observe migratory waterfowl, and on this day I am treated to the company of three kinds of teals—green-winged, blue-winged, cinnamon—and mallards, gadwalls, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, grebes. Binoculars in hand, I fall in love with the birds over again as I watch them swimming, preening, diving into the water.

Striding along the water’s edge, I am moved by so much beauty and aware of each solitary footstep as the ghosts of lost loves walk beside me. To live with an open heart is to allow the whole spectrum, to catch my breath observing the light on iridescent green feathers and to not reject the tears in my eyes.

At a recent retreat, Buddhist teacher Phillip Moffitt read this quote by C. S. Lewis: “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Today during this season of reflection, I recommit myself to the path of vulnerability.

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Navigating an emotionally difficult transition, I knew today that it was time to head alone into the forest. An early arrival gave me a head start before the crowds that mob Muir Woods National Monument on a summer weekend.

I headed toward the TCC Trail in adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park, a largely untraveled path where I always have solitude. I hastened past the tourists over the pavement and boardwalk with my trekking poles tucked under my arm, until I heard the comforting sound of my boots on dirt. And began my walking meditation.

In traditional Buddhist practice, a simplified definition is that walking meditation cultivates mindfulness and awareness of the body and spirit through walking back and forth on a path of only a few yards. I have had powerful experiences walking just a few feet over and over. But today was about being expansive, covering more ground and deepening my practice.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn wrote: “In daily life, our steps are burdened with anxieties and fears. Life itself seems to be a continuous chain for insecure feelings, and so our steps lose their natural easiness. Our earth is truly beautiful. There is so much graceful, natural scenery along the paths and roads around the earth! … Do you know how many forest paths there are, paved with colorful leaves, offering cool and shade? They are all available to us, yet we cannot enjoy them because our hearts are not trouble-free, and our steps are not at ease. Walking meditation is learning to walk again with ease.”

I focused on walking with ease.

I was flooded with the thoughts of recent wounds that are tender. I let the thoughts and feelings come and go, intermingled with my accelerated pulse and quickened breathing as I headed up the steep slope. I opened to be mindful of where I was, listening to the calls of band-tailed pigeons, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees.

In a wave of sadness, I reached out to feel a redwood’s fibrous bark. Along the trail I stopped to pick up my first acorn of the year, still green and covered in fuzz, and was reminded of the evolving seasons of the heart.

Eight miles of beauty, acceptance and healing. The journey continues.

Thich Nhat Hahn’s quote is from his book The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation.