September

I was thrilled to see this image for September in my calendar from Nikki McClure. I love everything about it: LIBERATE, all the books… Perfectly aligned for me with the time now. September marks my official return to the library world. I’m so happy to be back in the library where I belong. Most of the work I do in the world is related to helping people find the resources they need. It’s beautiful to see it illustrated in this way, LIBERATE. Finding freedom, finding a way out of no way, finding inspiration, finding tools and information, finding what’s needed, finding resource.

September from Nikki McClure's 2021 calendar. Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.
September from Nikki McClure‘s 2021 calendar
Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling
against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.

I was talking with friends yesterday about the differences between doing our soul work/heartwork/living our dharma: being on the path, being in alignment– it’s called many different things– and doing what we have to do to survive. The differences between what that heartwork is and what we do to survive as physical beings living within a system of Capitalism.

My life’s work, my heart’s work isn’t always what I do to help pay the bills, to put food on the table. I think for a long time I thought that it had to be. Like if I was truly living my truth, committed to my spiritual path I would only do work that matched that ideal. Like if I was doing anything other than teaching yoga and meditation and writing poems it was defeat/failure/sell out. Why did I think that? Where did that idea come from?

Meaningful work

Right livelihood doesn’t mean having to extract enough payment for my own survival from the things that I love. That takes the joy out, infects love with some desperation and anxiety for me. It seemed cool to make a living doing the things I love and value, why wouldn’t I want that? More power to folks who make enough money doing the things they love to survive and thrive. It doesn’t always happen though. I think it may actually be quite rare.

What happened for me with poetry years ago (why I never wanted to teach, why I dropped out of the scene a bit) has recently happened again with dharma and mindfulness practices. They are vital to me, essential for my own thriving and liberation AND I cannot have them coupled with my physical survival. I can’t have my ability to eat and pay bills and care for my family dependent on whether people want to read my poems, buy my books or sign up for my classes.

It’s possible that I suck at marketing or I haven’t tried hard enough– that may be true. Also, I prefer not to. I don’t want to have to hustle in the marketplace to share tools for liberation. What I am doing right now is feeling immense gratitude that another path opened up for me. I get to fall back on another of my loves: libraries. I’m grateful to have options. I know not everyone does. I appreciate how lucky I am to have many loves.

Love

Anybody who knows me knows how I love me some libraries. They have been essential to my own survival and liberation in a way that’s not so different from dharma. In fact, there’s a lot of crossover the way I see it. I was comparing insight dialogue with informational interviews and they’re not all that different: pause, relax, open, attune to emergence, listen deeply, speak the truth… Helping people identify the questions beneath the question, what they’re really asking, what the need is. (Not so different from Nonviolent Communication either, come to think of it.) The adventure of setting out on a path of discovery, of finding out for yourself what’s needed, what’s true. (Ehipassiko, see for yourself.)

Worldly concerns

It’s been ten years since I was last a librarian: librarian as role, task, job, identity. I was one of the librarians at Occupy Wall Street and it felt important and transformative. As much as I tried to stay off the radar, I did get some attention for it and just like the Buddha taught, I was tossed by the worldly winds: where some people praised me, invited me to speak at their conferences and gave me awards, others blamed me, attacked me, sent me hate mail and stalked me. While some people loved the People’s Library and were inspired by it, some took offense. Whether it was objectively true or not I felt low-key blacklisted in the library world because of my participation. I didn’t/couldn’t get another library job until just now: ten years later.

The air outside is getting a little bit cooler, it’s chilly at night. NYC public school starts tomorrow. September finds me digging out my cardigans, adjusting my glasses and totally giddy about the opportunity to be back in the library again helping people find what they need. Whether folks are looking for liberation, looking to transform oppressive systems or just looking for the bathrooms, I’m happy to help and grateful for the opportunity.

untethered grief

May 5, 2020 2:18 am I’ve been up half an hour at least because L was silent screaming in her sleep– fair enough response. Mourning rippling through the collective. We should all be screaming at the top of our lungs now (those of us who can). This is a nightmare we’re living in, a fucking nightmare.

I keep pondering the absolute lack of ritual. There’s zero collective mourning happening. Next to none. I see Lincoln Center with Union Theological is hosting concerts every week. I see facebook has added a couple emojis to indicate CARE. Individuals light real and virtual candles, but where are the altars, the shrines, the tributes? Where can we cry out, shake out, celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed, move grief through our bodies? Savage Remix ain’t it. It’s bothering me.

Responding to a twitter post from Kristin Rawls, the importance of collective mourning has been gnawing at me.

collective mourning

Grief– this grief– is collective. Treating it as an isolated experience, compartmentalizing it as individual suffering isn’t just wrong, it’s lies. That’s not the truth of how things are.

One of the many lessons we learn in opening our hearts is that all beings are connected not only through love and joy, but also profoundly connected through pain. Recognizing our connectedness in suffering is one of the ways we can recognize our common humanity. Fronting like we must bear the enormity of this pain alone is an offense– a moral offense and an affront to our humanity.

Reading the above twitter thread, there were many folks who wrote that they didn’t want to acknowledge all the suffering of this moment because it’s still unfolding, it’s not over yet. It reminded me of what Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “the Buddha says that there are few who are stirred by things that are truly stirring, compared to those people, far more numerous, who are not so stirred. The spurs to awakening press in on us from all sides, yet too often, instead of acknowledging them, we respond simply by putting on another layer of clothes to protect ourselves from their sting.” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Death is considered one of the four heavenly messengers in Buddhism, offering us opportunities to reflect deeply, re-evaluate our lives. Confronted with the mass death we’re surrounded with in this moment, it makes sense to me that “we must make drastic changes in our existential priorities and personal values. Instead of letting our lives be consumed by transient trivia, by things that are here today and gone tomorrow, we must give weight to “what really counts” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Moving forward, we need care and nurturance built into the very systems that support society. Care and connection– acknowledging our interbeing must be centered in the framework of our societal structures. They’re not now. Not here. Right now we’re still collectively operating out of this myth of the solitary hero, the lone wolf, all those pick yourself up by the bootstraps narratives– it’s all lies based on an outmoded worldview of power over, of us vs. them, of exploitation for profit, of individual vs. collective freedom.

Those times are behind us. I see building power with, all of us together, a culture of nurturance and care. Moving forward we build together, we care for each other, we mourn losses together acknowledging that all belong, all are worthy, all are loved– all beings above and below, seen and unseen, heard and unheard, living, passed and yet to be born.
All beings without exception. No one left out.

some reading:

Rebellious Mourning, Cindy Millstein ed.
“The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture,” Nora Samaran
We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic,” Ibram X. Kendi

Those We’ve Lost, The New York Times
Faces of the Dead, The Washington Post
Mourning America

letting go

I’ve been sitting with the intention to write up a dharma talk. It’s my homework. For weeks now I’ve been talking ideas over with friends, listening to other people’s dharma talks and writing unending notes, getting nowhere.

Not nowhere exactly. I got nowhere writing the kind of talk I thought I should be writing, but I’m getting everywhere looking at clips of little videos, which I LOVE. I could do this all day. I have actually. I present the fruits of my labor: The Four Noble Truths in video clips.

part one: there is dukkha (suffering), it is to be understood

part two: the origin of dukkha is craving (thirst, clinging) it is to be recognized

part three: dukkha ceases with the relinquishment of craving, this is to be known 

part four: there is a path leading to the cessation of dukkha (=eightfold path) it is to be cultivated

Read/hear more about it:
There’s so much to learn and study about the Four noble/ennobling truths. Here are a few links to start with:

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

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! (Keats)

Autumn. I spent time yesterday at the Department of Sanitation digging through the rubble of what was left from Liberty Park. It was the second day I’ve spent doing it. The NYPD officers there know me by now and we’re friendly enough to chat to help pass the time. I was asked more than once why more people hadn’t shown up for their stuff. I didn’t have a good answer. Maybe they don’t know about it or maybe it’s too difficult to get here. Others posit that we’re just too lazy to get it together to get uptown or maybe we don’t want to be in the system because we’ve got priors or something to hide.

Betsy Fagin stands among a sea of tents and belonging stolen from Zuccotti Park Occupiers
Betsy Fagin stands among a sea of tents and belonging stolen from Zuccotti Park Occupiers

Yesterday I was really interested in filing claims against the city and Bloomberg that they should pay for what they’ve destroyed (“destruction of private property–that’s an actionable offense.”). But today I’m wondering how could they ever? It’s impossible to repay. We’ve got two different realities at clash. This is the paradigm shift we’ve been talking about for so long. One reality is Bloomberg’s world of finance and hierarchy, where people just follow their orders and there are claims to file. The other isn’t even about that. It’s not all about finance, it’s a gift economy. The second reality is a world of interdependence and connection, of mutual aid and relationships.

accountability

When I move to file a claim against the city, my underlying need is for some retribution, some justice. Accountability. I want my whole community back, but it can’t be bought with monies paid out by the city comptroller. What I mourn is the destruction of the love and goodwill that was embodied in the creation and daily life of Liberty Park.

It’s not just the cost of the tents and the sleeping bags, the clothing and all the gear. It’s not just about how much the electronics cost or the generators or any other thing. Their true value isn’t reflected in their money cost. Justin’s leather portfolio was given to him at graduation by his grandfather. It is irreplaceable. Its value doesn’t derive from the cost of the leather or of the craftsmanship of the thing in itself. The value is in the love the object was steeped in and the feeling it created over time.

Justin's things are destroyed. Smashed tablet, phone and other other electronics.
Justin’s things are destroyed. Smashed tablet, phone and other other electronics.

generosity

So too the People’s Library built entirely of generosity, of love. So too all the tents, all the mittens, all the jackets, all the socks. Every pizza, every energy bar, every bottle of water. Almost every aspect of life at Liberty Park was created through a generosity of community spirit with a foundation in love. This is not quantifiable. It is the destruction of our home, of our community.

What happened at Liberty Park wasn’t just clearing a park of a bunch of campers or people leaving piles of books around, it was an attempt to sever the ties of love, community and support that had taken root and begun to grow.

I believe that what any gardener knows will prove true for our community as well. Bloomberg’s deadheaded us and our community– temporarily destroyed the visible, flowering growth. It’s almost impossible to kill a plant by deadheading, it’s actually one of the best methods for creating new growth. Now our roots can grow deeper and stronger. Thanks again for your help, Mr. Bloomberg! It really is the beginning of the beginning.