“Sell your cleverness…”

Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event.  I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six.  As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time.  I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory.  I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky.  The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness.  One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?”  I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.

No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while.  This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to.  I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame.  His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays has been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year.  But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment.  This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning.  How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things?  Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder.  How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day?  How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?

I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky.  I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing.  I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera.  I walked away in awe and also distress.

Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late.  I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world.  From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war.  But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place.  And I don’t just mean for people.  There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life.  And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.

And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism.  We all are supposed to die.  All life leads naturally to death.  It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily.  Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives.  And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction.  Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi

In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life.  The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it.  This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!

The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.

These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.

Remaking Easter… on the fly!

  
So… yes. I forgot it was Easter, until about 9:00pm yesterday evening. Despite being told by my wife several times that week, as well as being told by friends of the impending family egg hunts on the agenda for the weekend. I am pretty sure that last example clarifies for me what is seeming to size up to selective and subconscious listening. You see, traditional family celebrations aren’t always that easy for me. They really never have been. But when I was younger, being a child of divorce didn’t always seem that bad. The windows and doors into families expanding and changing did afterall provide me with my only siblings… all 5 of them!

Fast forward to today and it is a little more complicated. More familial factions and just plain old geography has made it impossible to experience anything resembling traditional backyard egg hunts with the cousins and grandkids. Being married to someone from an entirely different cultural background with her own distinct holidays and traditions has made something like Easter even more foreign to me. So it is with great pause and ponderance (anxiety and sometimes straight up ignorance… in the active sense of the word) that I approach the response to my Persian wife’s question, “What do you want to do for Easter?”

So I did what any self respecting parent in the 21st century would do in a pinch… I googled Things to do in LA with kids Easter! Of course the magic of the internet provided plenty to that query. What it did NOT provide was an adequate response to my eldest daughter’s question. “Do you think the Easter bunny will come to our house tomorrow?” Cue the Homer Simpson Doh! I had packed away last year’s memories of Easter most likely for the same reasons that I had avoided this year’s impending Easter. But my daughter doesn’t forget anything, for good or for worse (more on that later.) Last year did somewhat resemble the backyard egg hunt of my youth. So what was I to do now? I had to think fast… but instead I put it off till morning, until the day of… Easter.

Here is what I came up with.

  
I had to quickly type this up while making breakfast, all the while debating whether it was even worth the trouble. My wife and I decided that the cultural tradition of celebrating Aide de Norouz (Persian New Year) was our preferred spring time celebration. No weird bunnies or battles over massive amounts of candy (those Cadbury Eggs and Peeps will get you every time) or explanations of the dead come back to life. And this is not a knock on my Catholic upbringing… well, because it wasn’t really a Catholic upbringing. I never attended Easter mass on Sunday no matter how many times my Mother may have wanted it. My issue was with the consumer spin on this holiday, like most others. This country begs you to purchase your Pascua. Even if I wanted to I could not do this… I merely don’t have the time to go running around buying whatever is necessary for an Easter Basket full of junk. And I sure as hell don’t want that to change anytime soon. So I didn’t. Instead I attempted to change Easter for my family, so that it fit more with who we are and who we want to be. The reaction from my kids was validation enough.

We did indeed do all of the things the “Easter Bunny” had urged us to do. A quick train trip to downtown saw our little family unit celebrating life self sufficiently. A beautiful downtown lunch date was followed immediately by one of the most bizarre and scariest things a parent or child could think of on an Easter Sunday. A chance run in with the 3 most horrifying Pirates one could ever happen upon. They were coming out of the Stillwell Hotel lobby, which apparently houses a “Pirate Bar.” Mind you these weren’t your average Pirates of the Caribbean, no no. These fools were down right scary! One had to have been at least 6’8″ while the shortest one boasted 3 decapitated heads on chains.. yes all in front of my 3 and 5 year old daughters. It. Was. Awkward. Here we were preparing our girls to see a 6 ft. bunny (though there have been scary versions of that for sure, thanks Donnie Darko) and here we had to contend with three Piratas out of the blue. Luckily the tall one wised up and turned good guy Pirate, as good as a 7ft. tall Pirate with maniacal contact lens reminiscent of the Walking Dead zombies could be, by offering fool’s gold to the girls, who surprisingly accepted. The shorter one kept making jokes about free baby sitting and cages while waving his 3 heads on a chain around. Needless to say that my wife and I were taken aback and I am typing this while awaiting what I anticipate to be the first of many calls to put out the midnight fires of justified nightmares. Happy Easter!!! Side Note: If one should ever find themselves in a similar situation, pick up the closest makeshift sword and swashbuckle your way into the realm of the role play. Of course I realize in retrospect that power of play (and play back) may be enough to avoid the traumatic childhood memories.

After this we moved on to the actual event that we had planned for… waiting in line… uh I mean a community egg hunt put on by the New City Church of LA. I only mention the line because while waiting to get let in with what I estimated to be a thousand people, THOSE DAMN PIRATES CAME BACK!!! WTF?!? This time there were plenty of children screaming, and not about the long waits. On a positive we were also fortunate enough to see Ecto 1 drive by while waiting to be let in… only in LA. Once inside it was very pleasant day hanging with families and their children in the city. The diverse crowd was happy and ready to celebrate with young ones. The volunteer staff were super cheerful and gracious in sharing that cheer around.

At the end of the day, we returned home having accomplished all that the Easter Bunny had implored us to do, learning even more along the way. The girls indeed made a new friend while waiting in line. We had found the city eggs, though the hunt had more of a dash feel to it. No matter, for we hid the eggs more stealthily in the backyard upon returning. And being the text-based child that she is, Nilou cross referenced the bunny letter to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything, while simultaneously questioning how the bunny managed to sneak past everyone again.

And I was reminded again of the importance of reclaiming and taking ownership of one’s family’s participation in tradition. Traditions are instructive. They teach us about ourselves, our families. They help us learn who we are and where we come from. More importantly they send us messages and instill values in us long after we’ve grown up out of the childhood wonderment and fantasy of it all. I can only imagine that is what those Pirates were really trying to hold onto with those decapitated heads. A sense of wonder in magic that is actually real, because in pretending with passion you made it so. For however brief that moment was. Today’s activities is not our family Easter tradition set in stone but it is the foundational building blocks that our children and myself will have to play with next year and the coming future after that. And I am no longer anxious about holidays I haven’t fully reclaimed for myself or with my family. I am excited to keep learning and playing. This is a resurrection worth celebrating today.

You remind me of the babe…


All last night as I drifted in and out of sleep, handing my new baby boy to my wife for feeding sessions and changing diapers, I couldn’t get this song out of my head.  During one of these sessions I had checked my Twitter feed only to find out the sad news about David Bowie. 

One of my all time favorite movies and characters in that movie, Bowie’s talent had presented itself to me early on in my own childhood. Wearing out the VHS cassettes with multiple viewings of Labyrinth, my father would walk by and without fail, every time Bowie was on screen comment out, “there’s Ziggy! Ziggy Stardust!”  I would quickly correct him that it was in fact the Goblin King, annoyed that he could not just sit down, shut up, and watch such great art without interrupting. 

I didn’t fully understand until I saw the album the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the collection of 8 track tapes and Vinyl of my father’s. Reading the cover and jacket and staring at the pictures of Bowie, I could not imagine why my father, a typical “man’s man” would ever be into something like this. The iconic 70s glam rock and sexual ambiguity juxtaposed to the traditional family oriented version of my dad was definitely confusing. As I grew older and wiser and more accepting of the nuances and complexities that  made up my parents as individuals, I appreciated my father’s love for Bowie’s Ziggy, which in time would grow to symbolize my own interpretation of a younger, more open minded and at times rebellious version of the man who had taught me much of what I know.  A younger man, who like me had a passion for surfing, music, fun… For people with passion. 

Now both of these men are gone, leaving us only with their legacies; the people they helped inspire… The people who’s lives they touched. As the world struggles with yesterday’s loss of Mr. Bowie and I continue to wrestle with the absence of my father while working hard to learn what it means to be a father… There are lessons I am grateful to have learned at the intersection of the lives of these two men. 

  1. Identities are complex but always justified
  2. The creativity we have as children is our most precious human resource… And should be treated and protected as such
  3. Creativity necessitates courage 

These are lessons that I feel Mr. Bowie (Ziggy) embodied unto his last breath.  These are lessons I feel my father believed in becaus of people like Bowie.  As I sit with millions today listening to his final album, which I first heard constructing a tree house last week in the backyard for my children, I’m reminded of these lessons. They are lessons I take forward with me into fatherhood, into the classroom, and out into the world. Thank you Mr. Bowie for your courageous creativity. You will not be forgotten. 

Welcome to the World my Son

January 4th 2016 is a day I’ll always remember. It is the day my son was born. Well, technically almost midnight…but the entire day was indeed memorable. Especially the moments leading up to his arrival. More on that later. 

I write this post on our last day at the hospital, preparing to take this proverbial little bundle of joy home later today. Bodhi is currently lying on my arm inspiring, as much responsible for the content of this post as me. My attempts to disconnect from the outside world have gone largely unrealized, though not unnoticed as one of my friends and colleagues pointed out in a text checking in that I’d seemed to have been, “conspicuously absent from Facebook.” And while I feel slightly guilty about not being completely detached from technology, I do not feel bad utilizing the power of the written word to reflect on the deep emotional well of feelings I have at this moment. 

The third time around is definitely different, harking me to think about the other parenting rodeos I’ve participated in. And while it can seem at times that everyday as a parent can turn into a full on rodeo, everyday has also been a gift that my wife and I recognize and are eternally grateful for. 

Yet, like all things in life, there is fear inherent in joy. This time around though, the fears are slightly different. Is it really that surprising though when you finally turn on the radio and news of North Korea’s latest testing of a nuclear weapon is the first outside story that you hear? Or the “storm of the century” that is quickly approaching, but let’s face it… Every storm in Los Angeles is momentarily worthy of such fame.  Where does your mind go when the power in the hospital fails and the generators come on? I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to brief visions of a zombie apocalypse, but even closer to home my mind wanders to past hospital stays with my first child.  Those days were hit by storms as well. 

As the rest of my city braces for the worst, floods, mudslides, and possible death… I must embrace the best… a new Life. Despite or perhaps in spite of the worst parents must embrace the best for the children. No matter the crisis or chaos, and there are many to be certain, it is towards a more positive outcome we must strive.  I had to remind myself and my wife of this as we raced towards the hospital at 90-100 mph the night we delivered. I meditated on this in yoga class just moments earlier, breathing in intention…exhaling hope. 

I will not pretend that this world is not full of tragedy and despair. But I will not dwell on these things neither. I can’t. I will continue to as truthfully as I can acknowledge them, like the thoughts that arise during your moments of silence, and continue to move towards clarity in action, always mindful of what my role as an educator, husband, and father will be. This is the world we have created for ourselves. And it is all we can do to stay focused and breathe. Am I scared? Just a little. But I am happy. Welcome home Bodhi. Welcome.