There are a couple of things sitting on my brain today. Most of them are directly about my brain. My brain is in serious question right now.
There are a number of things, very personal things, I am going to share with you today. Some of them may be uncomfortable truths, that you might share, but have not confronted. I am trying to confront my uncomfortable truths.
Part of this line of thought began with the viewing of this video by Dr. Amit Sood. It is about how to have a happier brain.
I like to walk to clear my head. You have heard many people say that, but I really, really walk to clear my head. I try and get a handle on the shit rolling around inside it, and then I try to bang one side of my head really hard to knock the crap out of the opposite ear. So as I am walking, it is treated as a meditation. The process begins by searching, as I am walking for a more relaxed gait. But with all meditation, the realization that the head never stops becomes acutely apparent. So the relaxation needs to expand to the head. And here is where the uncomfortable repetition of nonsense goes around over and over again like your laundry on an eternal spin cycle.
The fact that these thoughts have an emotional component is just another truth that reveals itself.
This has been a difficult year for me and my family. We are in the midst of serious paradigm shifts in the way we live, and money is always a difficulty. The work that I have done for the past 20 years also seems to going bye bye. We are living on fumes. It is not helped by the fact that there seems to be pockets of people just having a grand ole time while my wife and I try to figure out how to get on with our lives. So I begin to question whether the reality being painted in my imagination, needs to be supplanted by one of acceptance and tolerance. And this is where bearing my own contradictions are revealed.
As I am walking down one of the local strips here in Ditmas Park, I overhear some well fed white couple saying something about the housing that strikes me as completely naive and entitled. And the first thought that pops into my brain, in the midst of searching for this “acceptance and tolerance” is, “We really need a fucking virus to kill off all these fucking bastards. Really.” and as this thought manifested itself, I was faced with the contradiction of it. Then my mind went off on an evaluation of racism, classism, economic disparity etc. And I began to have a few insights as to why the world is locked in a downward pattern.
The thoughts of a hungry man are very different than one who is well fed. As Stephan Colbert once said “There is no hunger in the world, because I just ate!”
In the face of these truths, how can we expect anything to change. We know many things about the world.: climate change is real, and if at the very least you do not believe that, the impact of man on the planet is undeniable—with all the garbage on the streets, do we have any doubts of the impact of our consumerism? We know that air quality is bad and needs to be improved, but people now drive and buy cars more than ever. I can keep citing examples, but you get the idea.
So back to my brain. Trying to live a happier life, change my worldview in an instant, and accepting my own contradictions. This is what is at the core of real change in the world. And realizing that the pain of the world is affecting me at every moment. The change will never come from the outside. It never has. It has always and will always come from within.
Another book I recently cherry picked off my book shelf is “The Millionaire Mind.” I am not advocating for this book, nor do I agree with most of it. But there were a few very useful exercises. One was to recall the events in my childhood where those around me influenced how I thought about money. I wrote down some of these and had to also remember how I felt in response to those events. In review, I did not get a whole lot of encouragement. Everyone around me succeeded in passing on their fears and doubts—and those tapes have been replaying themselves on loop ever since. But the writer encourages us to expose, and then replace these tapes with a more positive imagining. This is where it gets hard for me. Do I replace one load of bullshit for another just so I can acquire more wealth? Exposing the painful thoughts for me is very useful. It reveals to me that I live under the auspices of a lie. I am filled with doubt because that is what I was taught by the adults in my life. And they were taught that by their elders and so on and so forth back to Moses.
I am not sure I can wrap this particular rant up in a nice neat package. It is what it is. Soon winter will give way to more sunny days, and my outlook may become more hopeful. For now, I offer my own mental purging in the hope that maybe we can begin to have a meaningful conversation. Because that is what I truly wish for. That is the beginning of community. In a real community, no one goes hungry or uncared for.
Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction —William Blake
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
The vision to reject
I am Man, lording it over all the lands. I piss in your rivers. I pollute your skies. Obliterate your mountains. Where I walk, the stench of death and decay abound. Oil and waste leak from my skin, and drip onto the soil. Into your bays and oceans. For the world revolves around me. I am Man.
For me, the differences of race are like the difference between animals. Between plants and minerals. My role is to seek dominance. to rule over all existence. Everything is here for the taking.
There is no “I.” There is no time. There is no race. Colors are merely part of a spectrum of light. Everything is light. The existence I participate in is to integrate with the existence of everything else. To become one with the light. But I am weighed down by material existence. My desires. My judgements. My opinions. My reactions. Thoughts. The endless river of mental verbiage. This is the nature of my slavery. I am a slave to illusions. The purpose of this life is to free myself, little by little of these illusions, all past down to me through time.
We are engaged in a search for the true “I.” The one that tells us that every end is a beginning. Every beginning an end. That my purpose is to integrate into a level of awareness that will connect my small cell of energy to that of the grand force that is the mega-verse. My breath seeks alignment with the cosmos—with spheres greater than myself.
With this vision, there is no race. There is no difference between us and everything living. It is all life.
For me this is the only cure to racism. Without this realization, we will be in a continual loop to validate our pitiful existence. It will always be about who has more. Who deserves more. Who is entitled. Today you persecute the one. Tomorrow you persecute the other. Eventually, it will be you who are persecuted.
When my understanding grows beyond the desires of the materialistic world, then a new process can begin. One that reaches beyond accepted boundaries of existence. If more of humanity could be infected with this way of thinking, our violence toward each other would slowly disappear. Then our energy could be turned toward this great planet we all share.
And today I express thanks to this great planet and the opportunities it provides. May we some day learn to embrace that. —BZ
It is hard to describe my feelings to a politician. It almost seems like an act of futility. I believe in the old joke that says “How do you know when a politician is lying? He is moving his lips!” Just to let you know, I voted for you, even though I was aware of the stacked odds against implementing your progressive agenda. Given that, I still stand behind many (not all) the initiatives you expressed in your campaign for mayor. My wife even joined your team and was sitting ringside at your inauguration.
And I half understand why you need to sidle up to the governor. We all have to get along with our co-workers, right?
Well here is the other half of that understanding. I am an artist who has always sat far to the left of most things. I am not a radical or a subversive, but I have been known to express extreme left ideas. This may be a byproduct of my clear understanding of humanity and a reaction to the rampant epidemic — addiction to greed. A disease which has rapidly consumed just about everything hopeful on this planet. My response is to look ever deeper into my own heart and search for personal ways I personally can have an effect on our current paradigm.
Another full disclosure about the woman I am married to: like your wife, she is a women of color and a staunch activist and realist in the growing area of urban farming, an agenda I strongly support. So much so that I am now working hard to make this my family’s collective future as I ride that road into my so called “senior” years.
So it is with these small revelations that I will not be supporting any of your candidates in the upcoming primary. For one, I cannot in any shape or form support Fracking. Our environment has taken so many direct hits with no response, it is sickening. And to support a governor who would stand with those who will shamelessly pollute and poison our very source of life, which is water, is unconscionable.
I am also aware of some of the forces you were up against the moment you took office. That force I refer to as the “Developer Steamroller.” This force I fully believe is perched to roll over everything in Brooklyn. With rents in Crown Heights jumping 21% in one year, someone like myself needs to take stock and wonder if there is any future living in this city. Also, with the recent bulldozing of a community garden in Coney Island and several similar stories from around the country, I have to wonder whether an urban farming initiative has any real future in New York City. I say this because even though on the face of it, urban farming may be the most sensible movement to come along in decades—greed addiction threatens to undermine any effort to create a counter attack on poverty. Growing food has been proven to be even better than artists in resurrecting blighted neighborhoods. But once the positive effect has taken hold in any area, the urban farmers need to keep one eye open for the coming reclamation of the land they are farming on. The developers are sending a message that says…”Thank you very much for improving the prospects of my property. Now take your tools and your compost, and get the f**k out of here!”
Until a few days ago, I was not even aware there were any candidates who opposed Mr. Cuomo. I, like everyone else thought he was just a bad dream we were all stuck with. When the New York Times denied him an endorsement (I don’t read any newspapers or watch TV, news included) and the information reached me through social media, it was a wake up call for me, and maybe hopefully a lot of other New Yorkers. I intend to rally people to get out to the primaries. In NYC, the primaries are extremely important as this is a democratic city, and the election can very well be decided by the primary.
So to reiterate, my position is one of progressive movements that do not run counter to our capitalistic ways, but should actually serve to help build a new economy in America. Urban farming, transportation alternatives, renewable energy and re-envisioning education (my wife and I are among the founders of Brooklyn Free School) are issues that to me point the way to a more positive future. As it stands now, NYC has been rated the most unhappy city in America and it is no wonder — as every sense of hope is consistently being attacked at every minute. I am a long time member of the Food Coop in Park Slope so I support GMO labeling and NO GMOs in our food. I would like to see the eradication of harmful pesticides in the growing of our produce or at least a real evaluation of that process and a move away from an industrial farm model. I support community meals, community farming (CSAs) and most things that have the word community in it.
It’s my position that fossil fuels need to quickly become a thing of our past and anything that supports a positive future for a real “green” economy will get my vote. I am aware that because I cannot put large amounts of lobbying cash into anyone’s pockets, that I am looked at as insignificant. But if people will pool together their efforts and try to jolt our politicians awake as to the direness of our situation, our vote can make a real difference.
So if you and Andrew are a little nervous, I feel that it is tough luck. Andrew should already be suffering from severe stomach ulcers with the frequency of his counter intuitive decisions. The consistent grimaced look on his face speaks volumes.
Of course you still have a chance to appeal to your base, and return to some of the common sense policies you rode into office on. As a fellow Brooklynite, I know you are capable of it.
Some years ago, I watched this British film called The Bar Mitzvah Boy. In it, a working class Jewish family in North London undergo preparations for their son’s Bar Mitzvah. Meanwhile the boy is going through all kinds of apprehensions which no one seems to notice except his sister. While the parents are busy arguing over who will sit with whom at the catered affair, their son is going through anguish. The upshot is that the boy is a no-show on the big day.
His sister finds him in the park and confronts him why he did not appear and how disappointed everyone is. The boy lists the aforementioned distractions of all the adults. His sister asks him if he is afraid to recite his Torah portion. He says that he is not and that he can recite it standing on his head, which he proceeds to do.
When this is brought to the Rabbi’s attention, it is declared that he has fulfilled his bar mitzvah requirements by reciting his haftarah before the lord.
I relate this because for one, it has always stuck with me. My own bar mitzvah was a very stressful affair. My father really could not afford the event, which always seemed like a competition between neighbors and relatives as to who would have the more lavish affair. I remember being harassed by the photographer constantly (he doubled as a magician) and I did not have a moment to hang with my friends or get to speak to my relatives and to hear whatever pile of nonsense they wanted to relate to me about my “big day.”
And these days, from what I hear, these events are even more over the top.
When my son was born, it was a question about whether he would be circumcised or not. My wife is not Jewish, but her brother and cousins had all undergone the procedure. When I asked my Nigerian doctor for advice, we went over the pros and cons, and the conclusion was on the pro side. But from what I had read, I wanted it done by a mohel, and not a surgeon, so we waited the requisite time.
My key business associate was (and is) orthodox and through him, I became friendly with his rabbi. When the time came, I asked Rabbi Fund, if he could recommend a mohel, and would he preside over the ceremony.
Jewish law requires that 3 holy men be present and that in order for a child whose mother is NOT Jewish be circumcised, he must also undergo conversion. We agreed. My wife and I, and our son met in a small Flatbush storefront synagogue and the deed was done.
But when Noah was approaching his 13th birthday, we asked whether he wanted to be bar mitzvah’d or not. We spoke with several people. My son thinking that this meant getting a lot of money, had to be put straight regarding our financial situation. That said, he was also apprised of the work involved in learning to read Hebrew and recite his Torah portion. So basically he refused his induction into Jewish manhood and the matter was laid to rest.
Yesterday, we made a vist to his grandmother who is in rehab just outside the limits of Crown Heights. We took a long route by walking from Eastern Parkway through some of the most orthodox sections of Hasidic Brooklyn.
As we passed one of the Chabad tables, a young man and two very young boys approached me and asked “you wouldn’t happen to be Jewish?”
Now I already know what is coming next and sometimes I just shrug them off. But on this day somehow, I was feeling spiritually predisposed so I said yes. They then asked if I would like to do a mitzvah (good deed) by putting on tefillin. I then explained my son’s situation to them.
We learned that the first time a young man puts on tefillin and recites the accompanying prayers, he is officially bar mitzvah’d. Noah agreed to the opportunity and we both stood there, on this busy sidewalk on Kingston Avenue, and recited the prayers with the phylacteries on our heads in the bright sun. When I covered my eyes, to utter a silent prayer, I thought only of my family and what I wished for everyone, which is peace and prosperity.
Then we walked on. I asked Noah if he felt any different, to which he said “no.”
But something was different.
And this allowed me to relate to him, a much loved joke.
Moishe and Chaim are good friends. They are always discussing ecumenical ideas, arguing over philosophy and trying to face the big questions about life.
One day they are walking down the street and they see a banner hanging outside a church which reads “Convert to Christianity and get $50!”
They stop in their tracks and look at each other. “It would be nice to get the $50” says Moishe. Chaim agrees.
When push comes to shove, Chaim agrees to enter the church, and report back to Moshe afterwards.
15 minutes later, Chaim comes out. Moshe is there waiting for him.
“So, how’d it go?”
Chaim shrugs his shoulders.
“Do you feel any different?” asks Moshe
Chaim says, “No, I feel the same.”
Moshe asks “The $50. Did you get the $50?”
Chaim looks back at Moshe with a look of consternation and says, “$50? What’s with YOU people.”
And with that I say happy Bar Mitzvah to my wonderful son. Now you are a man.
There are moments in life, where a series of events converge, to put one in a position that questions the core of our very existence. This may be one of those moments for me. It is one of those times I have to ask, why I am where I am, without the wish for a ready explanation. It is this kind of questioning, which needs to go deep, that there is a flash of great wisdom—one in which a vision on how everything is connected. If I were a better mathematician, I would be able to write an algorithm that would explain not only all of nature, the stars and the galaxies, but how those realities are connected to my struggles with money, the illnesses of loved ones, the seemingly chance encounters with new strangers and the opportunity to express myself in front of different groups of people.
It was with a sense of abandon that I agreed to spend a day at the Alternative Education Resource Organization Conference (AERO) which has been going on for the last few days at Long Island University’s CW Post campus. I will justify my first paragraph in a bit, but I wanted to give a brief recap of the day and why my sense of universal connectedness is especially strong this morning. My daughter and I left here early in the morning to catch the trains out to Westbury. We were met by taxi and en route, the driver picked up another attendee. We quickly exchanged introductions and before we even reached the campus, I was already engaged in discussions about the school, where this person came from and by the end of the ride we quickly delved into philosophical territory about why we care so much about the education of children. It set the tone for the day. Not having a clue or an agenda, I randomly picked which workshops I would attend. My method was akin to throwing a set of dice or going “eeny meeny miny moe.”
I saw the workshop “Experiencing Awareness Through the Body” by Margo W. MacLeod. Margo and her assistant were the first people I met at the table in the morning. I was unsure if I would attend. I spend my year engaged in activities centered around self awareness. Being a bit of snob I saw myself rejecting another approach. But looking around at the other topics, and my daughters enthusiasm, I followed the invisible thread that led me into the room.
I was pleasantly surprised with the gentleness and unpretentiousness in the way the workshop was conducted. We were led in a very simple sitting, which covered familiar territory for me. It established a quiet in my body and deepened breath which supports a state of calm. Next we were asked to stand and with eyes closed, to slowly and carefully walk around the room with this same sense of awareness. When we came into contact with another person, we were to stop and take an impression of what we felt the moment before we made contact. For me, there was a sense of the subtle body heat of another. The second part of the exercise was when making contact with another person, we were to stop and slowly stand back to back with that person. Then sit down on the floor with our backs together. Keep in mind that I did not know any one except my own daughter so there is a huge element of trust here. As we sat, the presenter placed an object into our hands. With eyes closed, I tried to sense what it was. At first I thought it was an artificial flower but then realized it was simply a balloon. We were asked to try to feel the color and texture (interestingly, I sensed it to be red and when I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see that I was correct.) We then followed with a number of games involving the balloon.
I left the workshop feeling very refreshed and awake. This particular approach to quiet work was not presented without reason. It is a method of creating self knowledge in children as well as adults. It originates from a school in India and you can find out more about it at their website. The video is of particular interest and was shown at the beginning of our workshop.
Next we went to the auditorium to witness the two keynote speakers of the morning. Ramchandra Das who runs 3 ashram schools in Nepal, and Skyping from England, Zoë Neill Readhead, daughter of A. S. Neill and now Principal of Summerhill, the oldest democratic free school in the world.
After lunch we attended “Bringing Democratic Education to More Communities” with Nikhil Goyal. This is where it became interesting for me. Nikhil is a very engaging and intelligent speaker. He is also very young (19.) The discussion went around the topic of why we have such a difficult time getting others to accept this seemingly successful mode of education. Nikhil said that when he visited Brooklyn Free School, his first reaction was “where were the metal detectors? Where were the guards? Where were the unhappy children?” But here is where I saw the opportunity to bring a certain level of understanding which has come from experience. I said (in essence), “what you are asking for is a huge paradigm shift. The world, at least to my eyes is extremely messed up. A situation that has in truth, been created by us adults. And we are asking that our youth take possession of this f**ked up situation, and fix it. Then the education system that created this mess wants to tell the children what they need to know in order to have the skill, knowledge and desire to correct the woes of humanity. What we in the democratic movement are suggesting is that EVERYONE drop their attachment to how they understand things, and trust children to find their own path to knowledge and actualization. But most human beings, including those sitting in this room, are unable to do that completely. Talking about it does not really help because we are asking people to “imagine” what this form of education can do. Until one actually experiences it and is directly affected by it, over a period of time you begin to absorb the fact that Democratic Education is actually another dimension of learning which is completely unfamiliar to the average person. To change how people receive this is paramount to trying to change the whole of the planet.”
We all eventually agreed that the process needs to be through osmosis. There are many more Free Schools now then there were ten years ago. But there needs to be a bigger understanding about how these schools will survive past a decade or so. One elder gentlemen brought this out very clearly. He said that we need to become familiar with the word abjure (def: solemnly renounce.) This is a huge leap for most of us, including this writer. It requires a willingness for me to give up my false sense of authority. But in doing so, it allows me to realize that in truth, I am not in control of my life. I would like to think I am, but as I approach my 59th birthday, I am beginning to accept that I am not. And I am okay with that. Because it gives me the opportunity to study my condition in a whole new way. There is a sense in me that everything is connected and that my own condition has brought me to the unique understanding that is beginning to unfold in me. I am still thankfully in a process of learning and growing.
This sense of “being-connectedness” draws me out of any self pity for things not always being easy—for events converging in a way to make me feel the truth of my own discomfort. It is because I have a wish for something more. A wish to live a life that is truthful and meaningful. How that happens may not be entirely up to me. But there is something I can do. I can make myself available to this new understanding and not resist the truth of it. I am where I am because of where I have been. If I surrender my false sense of authority, it gives me a chance to find a real sense of authority. And that sense has much greater value in the real world. So by the end of this workshop, the fact that we had gotten out of bed in the wee hours began to make itself known. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. After the second afternoon workshop, where I worked with mind mapping, we headed home. But I am full of thoughts and feelings this morning about the strong sense that I am just one small point in a grand fabric. I am grateful for my one day experience for helping me back to that truth.
Holidays. A time where I am possessed by the deep need to lay about and do absolutely nothing without any guilt. One of my guilty pleasures is to search for movies from the past year that I have not seen and kick back and watch. If it is science fiction, even better.
So it was with great disappointment that I chose to attempt watching Enders Game. I am not going to bore the reader with a recap of what the film was about. Basically Alien invasion infuses earthlings with resolute survival instincts to retaliate and destroy enemy. In this version, kids are trained for that purpose, because it is understood that children process complex data way faster than adults. Children are selected to be killing agents for earth.
Science fiction, which I read a great deal of in high school and then in art school, was for me, a genre rich in imagination. For instance, The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov was a far richer Star Wars scenario then the latter mentioned. Robert Heinlen, Harlan Ellison, and others were all so rich and varied and exciting to read. So why is it that every big screen sci fi has to have some scenario involving war or dystopia. Have we become so jaded that we cannot envision a future that is not a direct extension of the present? Do we have any sense of hope?
Now I am going to reveal my own idea for a premise. If you wish to collaborate on a story with me, I am all ears. So here it is…but keep in mind that if I see a script in a year or two without credit and it becomes a multi million dollar project, I am calling my lawyers.
What if another race of beings from far away came with a purpose—not to destroy or dominate or usurp us, but rather to enlighten the planet? I have this vision of a superior race, who observing our condition, sends an electro magnetic pulse onto the surface of our planet which instantly puts the entire human race into a state of instant self realization. What would be the consequences of such an event? Would it all be positive? Could the majority of humans sustain such an event without going completely mad? My working title is “The Bodhisattva Ray”
I believe that the current sad state of films coming out of Hollywood is the way it is because for one, everything is about making money. Two, most screen writers and directors do not have the personal vision to see much past what has already been done. And three, very few humans are actually in the process of seeking enlightenment, therefore they are unable to see a race or planet that would represent a higher ideal.
I often walk the streets of Brooklyn, many times accompanied by my son, where our discussion and thoughts work out scenarios where the world could be improved. How things could be made better. What would our streets look like with less or no cars. What if people cared more about their immediate environment? What if corporate businesses, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, cheap food markets (too much candy, chips, lotto tickets and sweetened soft drinks) did not litter our landscape, but rather open spaces (for ALL) existed and our mobility was clean and sustainable? What if there were food gardens everywhere? Or that community among neighbors was part of the natural order rather than an occasional feel good event?
I am waiting for a good movie like that. It probably will never happen though. This is because there will be no fancy weapons, no horrific and scary aliens, no kung fu and there will be no requisite murder, death and violence. After all, they will say, who wants to watch a film full of meditating, peaceful and functional characters? Disharmony is so much more entertaining.
Join Chris on this twenty-year tour of his singular writings on children and education. His parable-like stories and probing essays deliver his insights with a clarity and immediacy seldom found in books about teaching and learning.
Chris’s four decades of experience with kids of every imaginable kind in deeply human settings have earned him a profound understanding of just what it is they need in order to develop to their fullest. While so much of the educational literature today deals with children as though they were disembodied brains, A School Must Have a Heart explores every dimension of learning and development—and doesn’t stop until it gets to the heart of the matter.