Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust,

I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air,

I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.
I still can not believe it even though I have checked every channel!!!!
Barack Hussein Obama will be the 44th president of the United States of America. I makes me proud to be an American-for the first time in almost 8 years I have not wanted to be Canadian.
I honestly never thought in my lifetime I would see an African-American run for president at the head of one of the 2 major parties.
I figured Hilary would run-win the bid for the Democratic party and win president. Last summer I started kind of hearing about him, but he did not have alot of support. Then at work-during all of the back biting between he and Hilary I went to CNN and checked out what they had to say about the candidates. There I found his speech on the American Dream. It blew my mind, after reading that speech I wanted to support him and for him to win so badly I could taste.

BETTENDORF, Iowa (CNN) -- It's wonderful to be here today. I feel right at home in Bettendorf, which is just a stone's throw from my home state of Illinois. But the truth is, we share more than the banks of a great river.

If you spend time in Washington, you hear a lot about the divisions in our country. About how we're becoming more separated by geography and ideology; race and religion; wealth and opportunity. And we've had plenty of politicians who try to take advantage of these divisions - pitting Americans against one another, or targeting different messages to different audiences.

But as I've traveled around Iowa and the rest of the country these last nine months, I haven't been struck by our differences - I've been impressed by the values and hopes that we share. In big cities and small towns; among men and women; young and old; black, white, and brown - Americans share a faith in simple dreams. A job with wages that can support a family. Health care that we can count on and afford. A retirement that is dignified and secure. Education and opportunity for our kids. Common hopes. American dreams.

These are dreams that drove my grandparents. After my grandfather served in World War II, the GI Bill gave him a chance to go to college, and the government gave them a chance to buy a home. They moved West, worked hard at different jobs, and were able to provide my mother with a decent education, to help raise me, and to save enough to retire.

These are dreams that drove my father-in-law. A city worker in Chicago, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 30. But every day, even when he had to leave an hour earlier in the morning and rely on a walker to get him there, he went to work while his wife stayed home with the kids. And on that single salary, he provided for his family and sent my wife Michelle and her brother to college. His dream was to see them do better. And they have.

These are dreams that drove my mother. A single mom - even while relying on food stamps as she finished her education, she followed her passion for helping others, and raised my sister and me to believe that in America there are no barriers to success - no matter what color you are, no matter where you're from, no matter how much money you have.

And these are the dreams that led me to Chicago over two decades ago to become a community organizer. The salary - $12,000 a year - wasn't what my friends would make in the corporate world or at law firms. I didn't know a single person in Chicago. But I knew there were folks who needed help. The steel plant had closed. Jobs were disappearing. In a forgotten corner of America, the American dream was slipping away. And I knew dreams are worth fighting for.

What is unique about America is that we want these dreams for more than ourselves - we want them for each other. That's why we call it the American dream. We want it for the kid who doesn't go to college because she cannot afford it; for the worker whose wondering if his wages will pay this winter's heating bill; for 47 million Americans living without health care; for the millions more who worry if they have enough to retire with the dignity they have earned.

When our fellow Americans are denied the American dream, our own dreams are diminished. And today, the cost of that dream is rising faster than ever before. While some have prospered beyond imagination in this global economy, middle-class Americans - as well as those working hard to become middle class - are seeing the American dream slip further and further away.

You know it from your own lives. Americans are working harder for less and paying more for health care and college. For most folks, one income isn't enough to raise a family and send your kids to college. Sometimes, two incomes aren't enough. It's harder to save. It's harder to retire. You're doing your part, you're meeting your responsibilities, but it always seems like you're treading water or falling behind. And as I see this every day on the campaign trail, I'm reminded of how unlikely it is that the dreams of my family could be realized today

I don't accept this future. We need to reclaim the American dream. And that starts with reclaiming the White House from George Bush and Dick Cheney. We're tired of tax cuts for the wealthy that shift the burden onto the backs of working people. We're tired of waiting ten years for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay is soaring. We're tired of more Americans going without health care, of more Americans falling into poverty, of more American kids who have the brains and the drive to go to college - but can't - because they can't afford it. We're ready for the Bush Administration to end, because we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But this is about more than George Bush. He's just the beginning of the change that we need. These problems didn't start when he came to office and they won't end just because he's leaving. We're not going to reclaim that dream unless we put an end to the politics of polarization and division that is holding this country back; unless we stand up to the corporate lobbyists that have stood in the way of progress; unless we have leadership that doesn't just tell people what they want to hear - but tells everyone what they need to know. That's the change we need.

I believe that Americans want to come together again behind a common purpose. Americans want to reclaim our American dream. That's why I'm running for President of the United States. It's the same reason I packed up my car and moved to Chicago. Because in this country, that dream is worth fighting for - not just for ourselves, but for each other. And that's why I don't think you should settle for a President who's only there for you when it's easy or convenient or popular - I think you deserve a President who you can trust will fight for your dreams every hour of every day for the next four years. That's the change we need.

This starts with an economy that works for working people. Americans don't expect government to solve all our problems. But you're tired of a government that works for special interests, and not for you. It's time that we had leadership that worried as much about Main Street as it does about Wall Street. That's why I'm introducing an American Dream agenda - to put some wind at the backs of working people, to lower the cost of getting ahead, and to protect and extend opportunity for the middle class.

We need to give working families a break. For twenty-five years, we've seen gaps in wealth grow larger, while our tax code that favors wealth over work. That's why I've proposed an income tax cut to offset the payroll tax that working Americans are already paying. This will be worth up to $1000 for a working family. I'll make retirement more secure for America's seniors by eliminating income taxes for any retiree making less than $50,000 per year. And I won't wait ten years to raise the minimum wage - I'll guarantee that it goes up every single year. That's the change that working Americans need.

We know that the cost of the American dream must never come at the expense of the American family. You're working longer hours. More families have two parents working. Meanwhile, it's hard to get a hand. It's even harder to get a break. That's why I'll double spending on quality after-school programs - so that you can know your kids are safe and secure. And that's why I'll expand the Family Medical Leave Act to include more businesses and millions more workers; to let parents participate in school activities with their kids; and to cover elderly care. And we'll finally put federal support behind state efforts to provide paid Family and Medical Leave.

We also need to change a system that is stacked against women. Forty percent of working women do not have a single paid sick day. More and more women are denied jobs or promotions because they've got kids at home. As the son of a single mother, that is not the America that I believe in. I'll be a President who stands up for working parents. We'll require employers to provide seven paid sick days each year. We'll enforce laws that prohibit caregiver discrimination. And we'll encourage flexible work schedules to better balance work and parenting for mothers and fathers. That's the change that working families need.

We also need a housing market that is honest, open and accountable. I've introduced a bill in the Senate that cracks down on mortgage fraud. As President, I'll get tough on enforcement and raise penalties on lenders who have broken the rules. For homeowners facing foreclosure through no fault of their own, we'll create a fund and reform bankruptcy laws to give them a shot at avoiding foreclosure. We'll mandate that prospective homebuyers have access to accurate and complete information about their mortgage options. And we'll give middle class homeowners added relief by providing a tax credit that covers 10 percent of a family's mortgage interest payment each year. That's the change that America's homeowners need.

Since many people who hold subprime mortgages are shifting their debt to credit cards, we have to make sure that they understand their commitments - otherwise credit cards could be the next stage in the subprime crisis. To make sure that Americans know what they're signing up for, I'll institute a five-star rating system to inform consumers about the level of risk involved in every credit card. And we'll establish a Credit Card Bill of Rights that will ban unilateral changes to a credit card agreement; ban rate changes to debt that's already incurred; and ban interest on late fees. Americans need to pay what they owe, but they should pay what's fair.

This same principle of fairness is needed in our bankruptcy laws. For far too long, the same politicians in Washington who have been cutting back the safety net for working people have been protecting golden parachutes for the well-off - so workers lose their pensions and their health care, while CEOs get multi-million dollar payoffs.

I fought against a bankruptcy reform bill in the Senate that did more to protect credit card companies and banks than to help working people. I'll continue the fight for good bankruptcy laws as President. No more bonuses for executives while pensions disappear. We'll press firms to put more money into their pension funds, and require firms to disclose their pension fund investments. And we'll increase the amount of wages and benefits that workers can claim in bankruptcy court. That's the change we need in our bankruptcy laws.

And if you can demonstrate that you went bankrupt because of medical expenses, then there must be a process that relieves that debt and lets you get back on your feet. I don't accept an America where we let someone go over a cliff just because they get sick. That is not who we are.

Every four years politicians come before you to talk about health care. You hear the same promises. And then you see the same results. Well it's time to end the outrage of 47 million uninsured Americans. It's time to finally do something about it. I reformed health care in Illinois, and I didn't do it alone - I did it by reaching out to Democrats and Republicans. We took on the insurance industry, and we won. That's how I'll pass a universal health care bill that cuts a typical family's premiums by up to $2500. And mark my words - I will sign this bill by the end of my first term as President. That's the change that America is waiting for.

And health care isn't the only cost that we're not keeping up with. Americans who work hard their entire lives have earned a secure retirement. But right now, we've got 75 million working people in this country who don't have employer-based retirement plans. Personal saving is at an all-time low. A part of the American dream is at risk.

That's why I'll establish an automatic workplace pension policy. Employers will be required to enroll workers in a direct deposit retirement account that places a small percentage of each paycheck into the account. Then you'll have the choice of opting out, matching, or adding to this account. When you change jobs, your savings will roll over into your new employer's system, or into a system that you control if you leave the workplace or become self-employed. And the federal government will match savings for working families. This will dramatically increase the number of Americans who save for retirement, and lift up the amount of savings in this country. That's the change we need to help Americans achieve the retirement they are working for.

But we need to do more than put the American dream on a firmer foundation. Every American has the right to pursue their dreams. But we also have the responsibility to make sure that our children can reach a little further and rise a little higher than we did. When I am President, we will stop passing bills called No Child Left Behind that leave the money behind, and start making real investments in education. That means early childhood education. That means recruiting an army of new teachers, and paying them better, and supporting them more so they're not just teaching to test, but teaching to teach.

It also means putting a college education within reach of every American. That's the best investment we can make in our future. I'll create a new and fully refundable tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees every year, which will cover two-thirds of the tuition at the average public college or university. I'll also simplify the financial aid application process so that we don't have a million students who aren't applying for aid because it's too difficult. I will start by eliminating the current student aid form altogether - we'll use tax data instead.

And I'll tap the tremendous resource of community colleges, which educate half the undergraduates in this country, by creating a new Community College Partnership Program. We'll help schools determine what skills and technical education are needed to help local industry; we'll expand new degrees for emerging fields; and we'll reward schools that graduate more students. That's the change we need so that our young people can achieve their dreams.

This is what we must do to reclaim the American dream. We know it won't be easy. We'll hear from the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try crowd in Washington; the special interests and their lobbyists; the conventional thinking that says this country is just too divided to make progress.

Well I'm not running for President to conform to this conventional thinking - I'm running to challenge it. There is too much at stake. Too much at stake for the family that can't get ahead; the elderly worker who faces a retirement filled with worry; the kid who doesn't believe America has a place for her dreams. To stand up for these Americans, I don't want to settle for anything less than real change, fundamental change - change we need - change that we can believe in.

It's change that I've been fighting for since I moved out to Chicago over two decades ago. Because those dreams - American dreams - are worth fighting for. And because I wouldn't be standing on this stage today if it weren't for the dreams of those who came before me.

The dreams of my grandfather - who marched in Patton's Army and moved his family west in search of opportunity.

The dreams of my grandmother - who was up at dawn and worked twice as hard at her job because a woman had to work harder to get ahead.

The dreams of my father who crossed an ocean because America offered that light to the world.

The dreams of my mother - a single mom who understood that a life rich in family and experience was more important than a life of riches.

The dreams of those men and women on the South Side of Chicago, who fought with me to create a future for their community after the steel plant was shuttered.

There has been a lot of talk in this campaign about the politics of hope. But the politics of hope doesn't mean hoping that things come easy. It's a politics of believing in things unseen; of believing in what this country might be; and of standing up for that belief and fighting for it when it's hard.

America is the sum of our dreams. And what binds us together, what makes us one American family, is that we stand up and fight for each other's dreams, that we reaffirm that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - through our politics, our policies, and in our daily lives. It's time to do that once more. It's time to reclaim the American dream.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I made it back to the Temple last week for a sunday sitting/dharma talk-which I have not done in over 2 years. Odd, isn't it-when I lived in RH it took me almost 45 mins to make it on sundays and I almost always went the 1 or 2 sundays I was off a month. Just over 2 years ago- I moved less than 10 mins from the Temple and was in a position to have 3 or more sundays off a month and I have only gone for full moon chanting-and that few times at best. I am not sure what has drawn me to the temple now.
I have been off work almost as much as I have been at work this year and could have attended every event and used what was there to aid my healing-but I never did. Does that mean I had given up on what Buddhism offered me? Was I becoming jaded-as I so often do with religion. Being man made religion has so many many holes-so many restrictions-that no matter how beautiful I find the way I view humanity from the comforts of a given religion-in the end the paradoxes and hypocrisy always gets to me. As I have gotten older-really since before Ameena was 4 or 5, I have mostly looked to non-traditional, non-book religions-which has helped the Honeymoon period with a particular faith or practice to last longer, but none the less I soon find holes in whatever pagan theory I am studying and before I know it I am jumping sects and changing my mind. Years ago I would keep a journal of how I felt when I discovered a new practice/way to exist-how it touched my soul, how I viewed my life and all humanity through it, how it had changed and developed me. I would later look back at how I felt during my first few months of 'dating' a new religion or practice, after had I seen all of the puppet strings and was tired of the show-ready to jump to something else-similar yet different enough to satisfy my now logical view of this practice. I could always still see how I was changed by having believed and practiced-even for a short while-but it made no difference as to me having outgrown that particular practice or belief. It was time to move on. You know Sagittarius are supposed to be unreliable and irresponsible-free spirits untouched by the responsible aspects of life. I have always thought I never fit that description (well except for the sexual part-and even there I lack the partners you would expect a Sag to have had) I am so serious and was born responsible-in fact the first person I can remember feeling responsible for is my mother:) Yet, in the religion and spirituality category I am a true Sag-I fall in love quickly and completely with a new faith or practice or belief and just as quickly I outgrow and am done with it. People are so serious about religion-hell most wars are fought with that as a base-yet I have never understood how any person can not outgrow at least one religion. For me it would be like still liking the same foods as an adult that I liked at 5-when I smothered everything in ketchup (which I can barely tolerate now). It seems like stunted emotional growth-especially in people who believe so strongly and live so little of what they believe. How do they avoid hating themselves? The contradiction fascinates me....but I digress:)
Buddhism was the first 'main-stream' type rellgion I have been interested in oh 6 or more years. That's not completely true, I think in a sense I have always been interested in Buddhism, I just never studied it. After all, I grew up reading Pearl Buck books, I can not remember time I did not love and long for the China that existed in her novels. I studied Chinese for 4 years in high school and even visited China in 1990-so obviously I knew about Buddhism. I can vividly remember visisting a 'real' Buddhist Temple in the middle of winter in China-nothing I have seen in the states even compares:) Yet, in my mind I always saw myself as not good enough for Buddhism, my soul to dirty-not evolved enough. My soul was too young to be that kind, that compassionate, that wise. Underneath my cold and often difficult to really know or get close to exterior is a very much hot-blooded passionate woman. I do not just mean passionate sexually-though there is that aspect-I mean socially. I could never have followed Martin Luther King Jr who during the Civil Rights Movement turned the other cheek. I am more Malcolm X-I am not going to hurt you, but if you slap me you best expect I will slap you back bitch! My heart did not ache and hurt for injustice or inequality or atrocities-my blood boiled. I did not want an apology, I wanted heads to roll. Also my pagan studies have given me a different bent on human nature and existence. I do not believe in non-violence-even as a more or less Buddhist I do not. I do not believe in "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"- and not just because I am not Christian and consider the bible to be Christian mythology and not fact-but becuase I can see that policy just leaves everyone "blind and toothless". Yet, I do believe that a certain level of violence is part of nature and therefore a part of human nature- anyone who has swam in lake Michigan will tell you it is the undertow that kills-no matter how beautiful the Lake appears. How violent is a storm-with branches left all over the street and power lines knocked down-and that is here where storms are mild. Violence is part of both nature and humanity and to pretend otherwise is rediculos. Now I eat meat-though I have gone through vegetarian phases. Whether I ate meat or not, I never felt that it was wrong to kill animals. Death is a part of life, I do not support the Death Penalty, but I support abortion. I view abortion as the death of that potential life-I think it is re-born, not gone forever, but I do believe it is a life. My views are varied and to explain them could encompass a novel longer than the unabridged version of The Stand-and that is not what this post is about. Violence has no place in Buddhism and I guess inside I always viewed Buddhists as highly evolved spiritual beings and I have always been too flesh and blood for that. I know most 'practicing' buddhist might not fit my definition, but I do not join or claim to practice and follow a religion unless I truly buy into what they are selling. Otherwise I would be a hypocrite-and as rude as this sounds I am going to post it anyway-if I was that shallow I would just be a Christian. Mean, I know, but then unless you have been hunted and hounded by a group of people who can not seem to agree on anything other than that you are going to hell and it is their personal responsibility to help you see the error of your ways, you can not understand how Christians, in this country at least, can make a pagans life hell here on earth. Or how hard it is for me to be nice and take them seriously when I behave in a more Christian manner than they do. Here I will give a few examples, since I am so bitter, the Christian teacher who told my 4th grader that she was going to hell because I did not take her to church or believe in Christ. My previous boss who was a co-leader with me but did not believe me over one of our employees because it was his duty as a Christian to believe another Christian over me-a pagan and heathen. Becuase I could see in the eyes of one of my favorite employees that he honestly believed I was evil, as he prayed over every meal he ate and considered himself to be a 'true' Christian though he had sex outside of marriage, cheated regularly and without shame or remorse on his girlfriend, fenced stolen items and was not above selling drugs. Yet, he honestly believed that I was the lost soul. The hate also gets to me-Jesus was such a sweet hippy dude how did a religion descended from his teachings end up with so many hating self-righteous idiots? But, again, I digress.... this is not a post about Christianity has destroyed the modern world, it is about Buddhism and how I was drawn to it.
Believe it or not, a book is what sent me studying Buddhism, a sci fi book no less. The book was Radiant, byt James Alan Garder (who is of course Canadian:). It was of a series of books he had done on humanity in the future-low on the totem pole and often quite funny. The main character-You Suu (which means Ugly-screaming stink girl)-was raised on a Buddhist planet. The book featured a form of future Buddhism which, of course, does not exist today, but fascinated me none the less. I began to really look into Buddhism. I started with His Holiness the Dalai Lama-who I liked anyway, though I quickly decided that Tibetan Buddism was not for me. The internet was an invaluable source of information. The deciding factor would be this post found on a website:
Why religion? Why Spiritualism? Why Buddhism?
This entire article is actually posted on this blog on a post I made Friday, January 20, 2006. So I will para-phrase here. What caught was his explanation of 'religion' and what we as humans seek in it:
Religions usually start when one person has a profound understanding of life (the universe and everything). They try and share their insight - they teach. Other people get interested in religion because they see something in that person's TRUTH; they too want to know about the truth.

So then, what is this 'some-thing' that we are to join with - or be afraid of? Most religions say that this 'thing' is God. But what is this God thing? And it goes on like this and on like this and on like this. The trouble with words is that they are limited - the word can never be the same as the thing it is describing.
You can listen to many different teachings but only through your own study can you actually realise THE TRUTH.

I could not have agreed more with that. What further drew me in was not that Buddhism was based on the premise that life was suffering and his path-the Buddhist path- was a way to end suffering, what drew me in was his example of how we created our OWN suffering and reveled as victims in it:
The suffering is not so much physical as mental. It is what we 'add on' to a situation. For example you have a nice china coffee mug -- you drop it and it breaks. Maybe it drops on your toe and there is pain. I'm sure you can survive this much. What is difficult to deal with are the add-ons . . . ''Oh, that was my favourite mug. My best friend gave me that; I will never get another. What stupid idiot left it balanced there anyhow? How can I tell my friend? And look at the stain on the carpet. My mother will kill me. It's not fair. Why do these things happen to me?''
It's difficult to accept the facts of life the way they are!
To be content with things just the way they happen is not easy.
So the dukkha, the suffering is something we actually create -- we make the problem. Mugs break, friends come & go, the weather changes -- all of this is natural.
We don't want things to go wrong we want them to go right. This is only natural. But the bad news is that it is natural for things to go wrong (sometimes). Most people can see this but it is very difficult to fully accept it. The good news is - it will change (eventually).
Because we do have some control in the world, and can often get what we want (and that is nice) we want that all the time. SORRY. No can do. Sure, you are careful with mugs; you try and look after your friends, but ... you've got to allow nature to do its thing.

Go with the flow.
If you can see when it is time to stop wanting and just leave things be your suffering will decrease. Like if you are trying to push start a car with a dead battery. You push -- and it nearly goes -- push -- and push again -- its worth making the effort. You want the engine to go. But maybe the nature of that engine means it won't start. Know when to stop. Take a break. Flag someone down. Call the repair man.

It may not seem like it, but this was a revelation for me. I could so see how it was not the event that caused suffering-though that is clearly not always the case-but what we add on to it. How we hold onto to an unwanted change that has occurred with both hands, struggling, cursing and sweating, trying with all our might to force that change to return to how it was before. How this in effect is how we choose to suffer rather than choose to except reality at it exists in that moment. The key word being choose. How often do I feel beat up by life, like the things that happen to me are out of my control-which is true-but I do not have to allow that to direct my path. I could learn another way to handle those things that are going to happen anyway-those un-fun and often life altering, aspects that are the bread and butter of this journey we call life. I wanted to know when to let go, take a break, call a repairman-and so my journey into Buddhism began.
I will not go over the details-for those too exist in previous posts-but I will say that at the dharma talk I attended this past week, I felt renewed. My teacher said that an easy explanation of Buddhism, the 10 Commandments-so to speak-of Buddhism would be:

Not to do any evil,
To cultivate good,
To purify one's mind,
For some reason this definition moved me, like an epiphany. It was nothing I had not heard or read before in studying Budhism but for me, it opened the reality of what I was seeking from Buddhism-not perfection but simply to not do evil, cultivate good and purify my mind.
I can do that!

So, I am seriously thinking of taking the Precepts this spring-commiting to Buddhism after many years of study-I am ready to not be perfect but instead to not do evil, cultivate good and purify my mind.....
~~Where ever you go, There you are!