BOAT PEOPLE

I’m proud to say that my parents supported our Reform Jewish synagogue [Temple Beth Israel of Pomona]’s efforts to aid Vietnamese refugees (“boat people”) in the 1980s. A specific family was “adopted” and given material, personal and financial support all the way through the process. They did not convert to Judaism, they did not become members of the congregation. That was not the goal of the Jews. The goal was to do the right thing. At the time, as an adolescent, it was difficult for me to understand. As an adult, I see the nobleness/love of the effort.

Read more on how the USA’s refugee system works: “An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy” (American Immigration Council)

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“SELF-POLLINATING” (“Letter from North Joshua Tree” from Desert Oracle No. 1)

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Originally published in Desert Oracle No. 1 (Spring 2015)

“Letter From North Joshua Tree”
by Jay Babcock

SELF-POLLINATING

November 11, 2014

I’m composing this missive from beneath our desert ash tree. Watering the Joshua tree, watching the male finches zip about, running Steve Gunn’s Way Out Weather on the house hi-fi out the open windows. That I’m outdoors mid-morning in November means that the warm autumn is continuing: little to no wind, daytime temperatures cycling 10 degrees north and south of 80F, blue skies and clear nights.

But yeah, I’m watering a 16-foot Joshua tree in November because there hasn’t been much rain here since Spring. That was enough to give us our our first wildflower season in years, albeit a mild one. Mildflowers. And grass, and more plants, which meant for everyone to feed on. The ants seemed to mobilize first and widest — black and reds alike, constructing chains of mounds wherever there was sand. Then during the summer months the ant-devourers were out en masse — we saw the greatest variety and quantity of our lizard friends since Stephanie and I set up housekeeping here (as my grandfather would say) five years ago: Desert Horneds, Desert Banded Geckos (!), Western Whiptails. All their real names, your honor. And the insects! I will also call them by their secular names: Thistledown Velvet Ants, Pallid Grasshoppers, Giant Redheaded Centipedes, Tarantula Hawk Wasps — the latter having larvae-nesting habits so hideous they may singlehandedly prove the case for the universe being fundamentally evil in the antinatalist sense.

Scorpion relocation program

A post shared by Jay Babcock (@jaywbabcock) on

Then there were the Giant Hairy Scorpions, pictured above: six-inch-long land lobsters with a mildly venomous sting, who were so plentiful in our outdoor raised bed garlic patch that I hand-relocated them by the dozen to an undisclosed location twice. (Amazingly, these ‘insects’ can live for 25 years. Can your dog?) More bats and butterflies (especially around the compost/manure operation) too. Friends down near Aberdeen Road saw a family of Ringtail cats several nights in a row in October.

And this past weekend, one of the migratory flocks of turkey vultures that we see here twice yearly roosted overnight in our neighbor Old Joe’s giant honey mesquite tree, 250 yards from our house, and in Miguel and Marta’s grove up the road. In the morning they sat on fence posts and at the trees’ apexes, with their three-foot wings extended, motionless for minutes on end sunning themselves, warming up for the day’s flight. “They look like wet umbrellas,” said a friend. Then they were off, in that funnel/cyclone formation they travel in.
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RUTH DENISON, September 29, 1922 – February 26, 2015

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This is a re-post of the official obituary for my teacher, written by one of her longtime students.

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RUTH DENISON
September 29, 1922 – February 26, 2015

In the great movement of Buddhism to the West, Ruth Denison was a pioneer. Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, called her “one of our most amazing Buddhist elders, whose vision has helped plant the Dharma in the West.”

The first Buddhist teacher to lead an all-women’s retreat and the first teacher to use movement and dance to train her students in mindfulness, Denison, who asked everyone to call her simply Ruth, created a quintessentially female, body-centered way of teaching. She was one of the first meditation instructors at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, as well as at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California; for forty years she taught extensively in the United States and Europe, helping to establish meditation centers in Canada, Germany, Alaska, Massachusetts, Colorado, Portland and California. She founded Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Retreat Center near Joshua Tree, CA, in 1977, where she led retreats thrice-yearly up until last year. She was an ardent supporter of female Buddhist monastics’ efforts to be allowed full ordination and often welcomed nuns to Dhamma Dena. In 2006 the Women’s International Meditation Center Foundation recognized Ruth for her role in bringing Vipassana Buddhism to the West.

She was also, as Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of Insight Meditation Society, said of her, “a splendidly unique teacher. There is no one quite like her.” Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of IMS, remarked on “the unique, colorful, and gracious qualities of Ruth Denison as a person and in her teaching style.”

Ruth’s journey began in Nazi-dominated Germany, where she grew up on an East Prussian farm. Later, as a young woman, she struggled to survive the near-fatal abuses and privations that befell her after the War. After immigrating to California, Ruth met and married Henry Denison, a spiritual seeker and former monk in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. Through the sixties and seventies they were active participants in the explorations of the counterculture, hosting lectures and workshops in their Hollywood home led by luminaries like Alan Watts, Aldous and Laura Huxley, and Timothy Leary; and traveling to Asia and Europe to study with the major spiritual teachers of the twentieth century. The teacher who influenced her most profoundly was Charlotte Selver, creator of the Sensory Awareness training. All this became a rich compost for Ruth’s later flowering as a Buddhist teacher in the eighties and nineties.

She was authorized to teach by the great Burmese Theravada lay master, U Ba Khin, who chose her as one of his Western Dharma-heirs (another one was the very well known S. N. Goenka). The style of meditation she taught is called Vipassana, or “insight meditation,” a method created by the Buddha to cut through our programmed thoughts and behavior and allow our true nature to manifest. She also studied with the leading Zen masters of the twentieth century, both in Japan and the United States, helping to establish the Southern California Zen centers founded by Sasaki Roshi and Maezumi Roshi.

While she considered herself a traditional Buddhist teacher and tried to convey the “Dharma” or teachings in their most straightforward form, she felt compelled to innovate and create, to shape the practices to reach her Western students. So in addition to offering guidance in formal sitting meditation, and teaching Dharma from Buddhist scriptures, she also instructed her students, in passionate and playful detail, to pay attention to the slow stretch of an arm at the side, to watch the colors change in the desert horizon, or to mindfully taste the food during mealtimes. Everything she did came from her desire to help her students open to the truth of this present moment, where enlightenment lies.

Through her years of intense spiritual practice and teaching, Ruth ripened into a mature, wise and delightfully unpredictable teacher of the Dharma. She taught from a center of wisdom and deep insight and was beloved and will be remembered by many.

A memorial service will be held at Wiefels Yucca Valley Mortuary, on Saturday, March 21, 2015, viewing 9:00 am – noon; service 1:00pm

In lieu of flowers please make donations to Dhamma Dena Enduring Legacy Fund.

For a beautifully researched and written biography of Ruth Denison, see Dancing in the Dharma: The Life and Teachings of Ruth Denison by Sandy Boucher.

RuthGaze

ANICCA

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My dhamma teacher Ruth Denison had a massive stroke sometime on the night of Feb 15/16. She is 92 years old and has been in declining health for the last couple of years. On Feb 17 she returned from hospital to her home up the road from me here in northern Joshua Tree. She is under hospice care and her directive wishes are being followed. No food, no IV, etc etc. A group of her students has been working with professionals to give her 24/7 care. It is now the morning of Feb 25. Many of us have spent hours at Ruth’s bedside, creating an atmosphere of profound, loving compassion unlike any I have ever experienced. It is hard to know how conscious she is, as she cannot speak, but nonetheless she does seem to be practicing. One of Ruth’s senior students, the teacher Robert Beatty, has been present since the 17th and has been posting bulletins to the sangha (community) at large about the situation. They are available at the link.
http://www.dhammadena.com/1.html

WHERE ARE WE?

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A few years ago, (Linn) Freeman House gave me an almost-complete run of Upriver/Downriver, the visionary/down-to-earth bioregionalist periodical published out of the “Shasta Nation” portion of Northern California in the late ’80s/early ’90s that he took part in producing. Here’s the TOC/cover and editorial note from issue 7. Something to emulate, yes?

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I’d love to see copies from the other watershed publications mentioned in “It Moves”…

CATS AHOY

THE SHIP’S CAT: this subject needs a coffetable book and/or doc film, stat.

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Lieutenant Commander R H Palmer OBE, RNVR plays with Peebles, the ship’s cat, who leaps through his clasped arms on board HMS Western Isles at Tobermory, Mull

This is photograph D 20280 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-27). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Ship’s cat on HMAS Encounter during World War I.

This image is available from the Collection Database of the Australian War Memorial under the ID Number: 304910. Donor Naval Historical Collection originally posted to Flickr as A cat on HMAS Encounter. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

ED SANDERS: A glyph to help peace grow out of turbulence

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Above is a glyph from a special edition of national/cosmic treasure Ed Sanders‘ glyphs printed and issued in Spring 2011 by The Brother in Elysium.

Here’s the description of the edition:

A collection of unpublished Glyph poems by Edward Sanders. This body of work consists of 19 Glyphs printed letterpress from plates of Ed’s original artwork, with two text pieces printed from hand set type. These 19 prints are each 8.5 x 11 inches, and laid into printed envelopes. The group includes Ed’s statement on the work, and is signed by him. Printed in a hand numbered edition of 250 copies. This body of work spans four decades of Sanders’ poetic career, and covers a broad range of his unique writing style, intellect, and keen sense of humor. A very nice addition to the published works of this important poet, activist, Fug, and fromer Peace Book Store Proprietor & publisher of Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. Published by Jon Beacham and Daniel Morris.
Price: $45

It’s 2015, and The Brother still has some copies for sale. Go here to see more details: http://www.thebrotherinelysium.com/publications.html

AND: I haven’t seen a copy yet, but last year Sanders published something called A Book of Glyphs thru Granary Press. It sounds great. Here’s the Amazon description:

Poetry. Art. A BOOK OF GLYPHS is a facsimile, color reproduction of legendary author, musician and Fugs founder Ed Sanders’ first book-length work of glyphs, which he created in Florence, Italy in 2008, using colored pencils and a small sketchbook. Though each piece stands on its own, collectively the 72 glyphs convey, with characteristic humility and humor, many of the themes explored by Sanders over his long and diverse career, including history, myth, activism and pacifism. The glyph—”a drawing that is charged with literary, emotional, historical or mythic and poetic intensity”—has been a dimension of Sanders’ poetry since 1962; he cites Zen rock gardens, the markings on Egyptian tombs and the typographic designs in John Cage’s writings as influences in the development of the form. Sanders’ name for the original notebook is “Smile-Book of Grace-Joy,” which aptly describes the range of concerns explored in this important and joyful work.

More info: Granary Books

Amazon: Amazon