meditation in an emergency

“Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous” Frank O’Hara

Next month, I’ll be guiding a workshop at The Poetry Project, meditation in an emergency. I tweaked Frank O’Hara’s title because it feels especially apt, but the workshop’s got nothing to do with Frank O’Hara.

It will be a practical class, a space to explore the present moment– lived, bodily experience– within and through the vehicle of writing. Utilizing a variety of generative writing exercises, meditation practices and discussion, this 5-week class invites participants to anchor in the body, the breath, sound and sensation and to translate this embodiment into their writing practices. The focus of this class is cultivating mindful awareness and generating new material. Previous meditation experience is not required.

EVENT DETAILS: Thursday, September 19, 2019, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parish Hall, St. Mark’s Church (131 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003)
Cost: $150 for 5 Sessions – 9/19, 9/26, 10/3, 10/17, 10/24.
Register online at The Poetry Project

Accessibility: Please call The Poetry Project at 212-674-0910 in advance to arrange accessibility. Please note on Thursdays & Fridays between 8-9:30pm the wheelchair accessible all gender bathrooms on the ground floor are unavailable because another arts project has performances in the sanctuary. There are All-Gender bathrooms on the second floor of the church. To access Parish Hall, attendees must pass through the main sanctuary and a corridor. There are 2 sets of double doors and two single doors to go through. The smallest of these doors at the end of the corridor is 28.5 inches wide. The Poetry Project will arrange for an ASL interpreter for any event with one week’s advance notice.

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

Was feeling a bid judgey with that last post & all the conversations around what constitutes activism. I can cling very tightly to my own views. I’m grateful to be in community that allows me my struggles and supports my accountability and growth in the process. A friend shared a Dharma talk from Yanai Postelnik that helped me shift some of my thinking around the issue. “Love in the time of extinction” is available here on Dharma Seed.

I was feeling frustrated that what people call activism doesn’t seem like activism to me and that in these times stakes are high and more is necessary from all of us– more responsibility, more accountability, more action. That was my view. It might still be my view actually, but I can see now that what I consider effective action may not be possible or even desirable for everyone. We’re all coming from different places with different circumstances and different views.

I was lucky enough to attend another Civil Disobedience training yesterday with friends I respect and admire who’ve been at it for a minute (Seabrook, ACT UP) and really know the ropes. The training started by asking us to write down what we thought of when we thought of nonviolence. It was immediately evident how wildly different people’s perceptions of nonviolence are. Which brings up questions– what are we committing to when we commit to nonviolence, what are we assuming about others? Even when we use the same words and ostensibly share the same intentions, we may mean completely different things.

Operating within an essentially violent system, what is nonviolence? White supremacy is violence. “You don’t belong here,” and all forms of othering are violence. Weaponized bureaucracy is violence. Multiple mass shootings within a week is obviously violence. Ecocide is violence. Eating other animals is violence. When I advocate nonviolence, what am I calling for exactly? What do I expect of myself? Nonviolence as tactic in a larger strategy? Nonviolence as theory, philosophy, worldview? Acknowledging, importantly, that nonviolence doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of violence. Nonviolence can have a number of interpretations.

Indra's Net

Gene Sharp cataloged 198 methods of nonviolent action (all analog.) Reading through the list made my heart soar again and reminded me that there is a lot more that can be done under the umbrella of nonviolence than sign petitions, make calls, march, picket, lobby, occupy, teach-in, die-in, banner drop, boycott. Lots more.

I honor diversity of tactics and enjoyed brushing up on NVCD. AND I was also one of very few PoC in a mostly white room and very aware of the fact that how police bodies interact with black and brown bodies is very different from their interactions with white bodies. (The gentle handling by police of the latest white terrorist is just the most recent example.) So when it comes to risking arrest, I’m happy to let the allies do it. I’m not trying to go through the system because I already know that my experience would likely be very different. (Sandra Bland wasn’t released after a few hours.)

So what is nonviolence to me right now? My word was equanimity. Confronting unethical behavior, the unreasonable requests of those with institutional power, unjust systems– all the challenges we face now– with solidarity, compassion, recognizing our common humanity: that takes mad equanimity. I aspire to that. There’s flexibility in it, agility, responsiveness. Brick to window? Throwing our bodies upon the gears of the machine? Yes, absolutely if that’s what’s called for. Buddhists call this skillful means, upaya, in Sanskrit.

Accountability is what I keep coming back to. I need to be able to answer for myself, accept the consequences of my actions. Answer to my own conscience, to my ancestors, to future generations, to the people I live and work with, to my communities. I extend community to all who breathe, all who walk, roll, crawl or slither the earth, swim in the waters, fly through the air. We’re all one being, interconnected. Indra’s net. I choose nonviolence.

Dogen describes what I’m trying to get at better than I can:
“It is not only that there is water in the world, but there is a world in water. It is not just in water. There is also a world of sentient beings in clouds. There is a world of sentient beings in the air. There is a world of sentient beings in fire. There is a world of sentient beings on earth. There is a world of sentient beings in the phenomenal world.” (from Mountains & Rivers.)

Recognizing and honoring this interbeing and shifting the ways we are in relationship with each other (& with ourselves) is a practice of nonviolence. A practice of revolution.

“A non-violent revolution is not a program of seizure of power. It is a program of transformation of relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power.” –Gandhi, Non Violence in Peace and War

right relations

credit: Lisa Mackie

I’ve been having lots of conversations lately about what being in right relationship looks like: what accountability is and isn’t, what being in community means. I believe we all must be responsible for for our actions as well as our inactions, answering not only to ourselves, and others, but to all our relations, the earth, other living beings we share the earth with, ancestors, and future generations. One of the guidelines I use in my workshops carries over into the rest of my life: honor the intention, own the impact.

Good intentions aren’t enough. Good intentions have never been enough, not in terms of interpersonal relationships, not in terms of political action. Recognizing how those intentions translate into action and what the consequences of those actions (or inactions) are, is essential to creating relationships of balance, care and trust. It’s painful, difficult work acknowledging harm we’ve caused and ways we’ve failed, but we all have been harmed and we all cause harm, why pretend otherwise? Naming this not as an opportunity for judgement or blame, but in an effort to turn toward the difficult. Being present with the many varieties of suffering without turning away.

Acknowledging the widespread suffering in the world in this time, I endeavor to alleviate what suffering I can by cultivating my own practices of mindfulness, compassion and equanimity and living my own commitment to be of service when and where I am able. I find that action is a practical remedy for overwhelm and despair. I hope that my choices and actions are impactful in beneficial ways for all involved.

Sharing here some resources from Buddhist Action Coalition (adapted from Upaya Zen Center) that offer opportunities to demonstrate care and compassion, make efforts to restore balance, bring us back into harmony. Knowing that all of our struggles are connected, here are some things we can do right now around immigration:

1. Educate ourselves and our communities
Learn about the root causes of migration and displacement from Central America and Southern Mexico (hint: 90% crop failure in parts of Central America due to climate change, destabilized governments). Learn about the US immigration system: DHS, ICE, CBP, and how the mismanagement of these organizations is causing chaos. Here’s a great article to begin: “Just Keep Going North

2. Donate to community bail funds
Reunite detained parents with their children by helping post their bail: Fronterizx Fianza Fund and National Bail Fund Network.

3. Volunteer and support immigrant organizations and organizations advocating for and/or providing legal services to asylum seekers
New Sanctuary Coalition
New York Immigration Coalition
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services
Immigrant Families Together
Al Otro Lado

4. Call your Congressperson!
Call your Congressperson and tell them to defund, to not vote for additional funding for DHS and ICE (or ask them to abolish DHS). This ACLU page will route you directly to your congressperson and includes a script.

5. Donate to organizations providing emergency aid (food and water!) to refugees
South Texas Human Rights Center
Team Brownsville: Humanitarian Assistance for Asylum Seekers (Texas)
Colores United-Refugee Shelter (Deming, New Mexico)
No Más Muertes (Arizona)
International Rescue Committee

6. Know your rights
Everyone in the US, regardless of immigration status, has certain rights and protections under the US Constitution. These ready-to-print cards (in different languages) help people assert their rights and defend themselves in many situations, such as when ICE agents go to a home. Please share these cards widely.

liberation not equality

It’s pride month again and with it, lots of celebration, some grieving, and corporate exploitation/rainbow capitalism – the usual. This year marks Stonewall 50 with people descending on NYC from all corners to mark the occasion of World Pride.

World Pride NYC / Stonewall 50 promises to be the city’s biggest pride yet – more cops, more barricades, more corporate sponsors! If that’s your thing, enjoy it from noon on Sunday June 30 at 26th Street & 5th Avenue in NYC.

I’ll be somewhere along the route of the alternative march. Reclaim Pride Coalition‘s put together a queer liberation march that retraces the original route from the Christopher Street Liberation Day March of 1970 from Sheridan Square up 6th Avenue with a stop in Bryant Park culminating in Central Park. Route details and information about volunteering available here.

My friend Bill Dobbs (who’s being honored by the National Lawyers Guild next week) told me about video from one of the early marches. Here’s some footage from Gay Pride 1971 in Central Park. (I like the moment – around 5:49 – when a white woman realizes she might be a little uptight. lol.)

Happy Pride. May all beings be happy, safe & free.

Here is Reclaim Pride’s Why We March:

We March in our communities’ tradition of resistance
against police, state, and societal oppression,
a tradition that is epitomized and symbolized by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.

We March against the exploitation of our communities for profit
and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide, including the NYC Pride Parade.

We March in opposition to transphobia, homophobia, biphobia,
racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry based on religious affiliation, classism, ableism, audism, ageism, all other forms of oppression,
and the violence that accompanies them in the U.S. and globally.

We March for an end to individual and institutional expressions of hate and violence
as well as government policies that deny us our rights and our very lives,
from the NYPD to ICE, from the prison industrial complex to state repression worldwide.

We March to oppose efforts that deny our communities’ rights
and that brutally erase queer people worldwide.

We March against domestic and global neoliberalism and the ascendance of the far right,
against poverty and economic inequality, against U.S. military aggression,
and against the threat that is climate change.

We March to affirm that healthcare is a right,
including treatment for all people with HIV/AIDS worldwide and intensive prevention efforts,
and to demand an end to HIV stigma and criminalization.

We are trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit,
non-binary, gender non-conforming + and allies.

We March to celebrate our communities and history,
in solidarity with other oppressed groups,
and to demand social and economic justice worldwide—we March for Liberation!

retreat? more like attack

After training at University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness in April, I’m now a qualified MBSR teacher. I’ve had the great good fortune to spend time since then on silent retreat, allowing me space and time to reflect and absorb.

I attended Insight Meditation Community of Washington‘s week-long Intimacy with Life retreat with Tara Brach, La Sarmiento, Kate Johnson and Jonathan Foust. When we broke silence at the end of the week, one of the participants shared that the week had felt more like an attack than a retreat. Silence can really feel like that, total attack. It can also be a space for bliss, for anything. Spaciousness can hold everything.

I’m only home for another week or so before I’m off to Barre, Massachusetts for the PoC Retreat at Insight Meditation Center. I’m VERY EXCITED about this opportunity to sit a whole retreat in community with friends and family. Less attack maybe, more retreat.

QTPOC Meditation 4/26

Awaken into spring!

On Friday April 26th from 7-9 pm at the Interdependence Project, 28 West 27th Street #704 Ashleigh Eubanks & I will be guiding a meditation and mindful movement practice for QTPOC. Join us!

This event is hosted collaboratively by NYCPOC Healing Circle and Rest for Resistance. The space is wheelchair-accessible, but the bathrooms are not.

your guides, Betsy & Ashleigh

women are powerful

SPD is celebrating the Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing anthology this Black History Month by offering 30% off titles by anthology authors and other radical black women writers.

My book‘s on the list, as well as a lot of other Belladonna titles– work from some of my dear friends, allies and inspirations.

Get your read on!

poetry reading 2/3

February 3 from 6-8 pm at 9 W. 8th Street in NYC I’m reading with CAConrad, Matvei Yankelevich, Morgan Vo, Karen Weiser, Farnoosh Fathi, Shiv Kotecha and Anselm Berrigan in association with Artfare-New York‘s inaugural exhibition.

A lot of what I wrote is in response to Dustin Yellin‘s work. The 2-D images in no way capture the objects’ intricacy and magic. It was a joy to interact with them in person, I even got a lot of the language I used from the back of the cutouts in his pieces.

Dustin Yellin

detail from Dustin Yellin‘s Going to Mars

Community Care Day 1/18/19

Audre Lorde

Join me at The Audre Lorde Project’s Community Care Day at The People’s Forum 320 W. 37th St, New York, NY 10018 this Friday January 18th from 6-9 pm.

Event info from ALP:

Community Care Day is an evening event where we are inviting folks to join us in deepening our collective community care. We will build together by sharing food, getting to know each other and sharing care and healing strategies. 

Join the 3rd Space Program! We will be offering workshops that will teach you different ways to care for yourself and others, get some healing from our body and energy work practitioners and get some grub, community, laughter and love! 

Sharing space is healing, holding space for each other and having a place to go to where you can be your full self and uplifted is what we are creating – join us at Community Care Day – resilience happens through collective action, recognition and love. Come learn and share skills and resources, eat some food, make some art, and generate joy.

This is a time to be still, be loving, be cared for and caring. Resilience requires community Come to ALP’s Community Care Day! This event is by and for Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming folks who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. 

The 3rd Space Program is made up of community members who identify and are invested in sustainable care for our people that is centered in a deep, loving and radical sense of community, that moves away from the isolation and disposability that medical institutions and capitalism impose on us and instead uplifts and creates the strategies within us and from our lineage that have kept us thriving and resilient as black and indigenous, people of color, queer, trans and gender non-conforming folx.