Monday, February 1, 2016

The De-vitalization of a City

The city I live in, Glens Falls, New York, was once an economic hub for the region. Extractive industries like logging and pulp mills led the charge followed by manufacturing and the pollution of the Hudson River. After WWII American prosperity brought the proliferation of the automobile. The electric trolleys for urban and inter-urban development were bought and dismantled by front companies working for Standard Oil, General Motors, and Firestone making way for a private car monopoly that would take over the lion's share of what was once the public domain. The adjoining township of Queensbury became a prosperous suburb as taxes paid by Glens Falls merchants were re-distributed by the state to award infrastructure "improvements" in Queensbury to accommodate shopping malls and big box retailers. These national chains practiced predatory marketing to drive local businesses to close. A car-centric society blind to its excessive petroleum consumption preferred the huge parking lots and wide roadways to the "quaintness" of a 19th Century city.

 Local planners had little idea what to do. A municipal center that would logically be placed in an urban location was built in the boondocks. The same thing occurred with the local college sited in a cow pasture depriving the city of an academic community. Urban renewal gave the coup de grace destroying the Paramount theater and several blocks of retail stores to put in parking lots, a suburban style burger king and a civic center that became an economic albatross costing the city tens of millions of dollars.

I've lived here for over twenty years. I've watched successive administrations flail about looking for the formula that would re-vitalize the city. Millions of dollars have been spent on consultants. New Urbanist principles have been discussed even if not understood. The bottom line is that nothing has worked. The tipping point has not been achieved. The amount of money that has been hurled at this project of re-vitalization could have purchased enough public art to put Glens Falls on a par with Florence, Italy. Imagine that if you will.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Cannabis Spirit - Part 1

Amel woke at 4 am. He went to his small kitchen and brewed a cup of tea. He sat for a few moments looking out the window at the garden. "Sat Nam", he said quietly as he opened the door and walked out into the garden. He stood on the path and drew a deep inhale. His breathe began deep in his lower stomach and went up through his torso to his clavicle. His eyes were closed and focused at the brow.

The Cannabis Spirit called to Amel, "Come to me with water, Brother, for I thirst and my buds grow heavy with the dew of your yearning." Dutifully Amel brought a large watering can. He smiled as he poured the water and murmured, "beautiful ladies" in a melodious fashion.

Gaia had said that she would give her children many gifts and one of them was the Cannabis Spirit. "Be a connection to me for them," she instructed the Cannabis Spirit. And so it was for many eons. But as the Kali Yuga proceeded the ways of the children became so frivolous and spoiled that the gift of cannabis itself became a curse and was no longer a blessing.

Amel had escaped from the desert fortress of Harou eleven years ago. Many assassins had followed him.  One had come disguised as a pot-seller. Another had come on horseback leading a company of mercenaries. Some had died. Some had fled. Some had stayed and been given the instruction setting off afterwards for a destination chosen by Amel. They would spread the Message across the world.

Harou heard of this and was quietly enraged that Amel had been able to defy him. He stood in the courtyard under the stars and looked around him at the young men and women he was training to kill. They lounged on couches and pillows, beautiful companions offered them sensuous delights, delicacies and favorite foods were proffered, and the sweet pungent smell of burning cannabis wafted through the setting. Harou gestured to Bodan, his second-in-command, "Tell me, Bodan," said Harou in a bare whisper, "What can we do about this Amel. He must not be allowed to continue defying me."
"Leave him to me, Master,"  said Bodan. "The man has not lived whom I could not overcome."
"Yes, I will do that, Bodan," said Harou. Neither of them noticed the shadow light of Amel's subtle body as it stood in the corner a few feet away.

Amel lay down the pipe. He drew a deep breath on the inhale. He focused at the brow. He rose and pulled his sword from its sheath. First he executed the Katarn Manuevers, swift and graceful movements to invoke the flow. Then he repeated the Manuevers standing first on his right leg and then on his left leg. He then sheathed the sword and sat on his heels. For the next hour he sat, his arms raised above his head, elbows straight, hands together in prayer, reciting "Sat Nam", contracting the stomach muscles on the "Sat" and softly inhaling on the "Nam". (Author's note: I have vowed to finish this story if and when I get at least three comments asking me to do so. Otherwise it can remain as a collection of thoughts in my little brain.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Perceiving the Divine

A mountain rose above the valley. Its towering snow capped peak shone brilliantly in the sunlight. When darkness settled over the land the top of the mountain glinted in the last hours of illumination.

In the valley below there was a village. The people of the village lived simple lives. They rose each morning to their chores tending their livestock and their gardens, gathering to discuss some slightly unusual happening, to gossip, to laugh, and of course to pass judgement on others. For that is the way of people.

A young woman of the village was considered ugly by everyone. Her brothers and sisters had no use for her. Her parents despaired of ever finding any kind of spouse for her. She was just too ugly.

Now comes the part about the handsome prince. He came from a kingdom far away and he was of course searching for a bride to reside with him and rule over his kingdom. He had promised to visit every neighboring kingdom and to go to every single village to find the perfect woman for him.

As he passed through the village of the ugly young woman he saw her and instantly fell in love with the most rapturously beautiful woman he could ever have hoped to lay eyes upon.

Okay, now what does all this mean? Do the people of the village have some outlandish aesthetic that makes a mockery of the form, balance, symmetry, and character that we know as Beauty? Has a witch cast a spell on the prince to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of his subjects? Does the prince himself have really bad taste? Somewhere in all this lurks the idea that Beauty is a universal quality that somehow transcends as well as unites all cultures, tastes, and social norms; that Beauty is seen with and by the soul by everyone regardless of ethnicity or experience.

Anyway, as it turns out our young woman is now considered by everyone to be the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. Even the people of her village now think of her as the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. And, strangely enough, they never wonder at their former opinion of her.

At this point a sage comes down from his cave on the mountain, sees all this foolishness, and begins to chastise everyone even the prince. "You are all fools," he cries, "This woman is not beautiful. She is a horror to look at. Be done with this stupidity!"

Everyone is at first dumbfounded, but then some narrow their eyes at the young woman. And they begin to think. And the more they think, the more they convince themselves that the young woman is some kind of sorceress who has cast a spell on them. And then they see her ugliness. And soon the prince does too. So the prince casts her out of the palace and she winds up a beggar on the streets.

One day while sitting on a corner with her begging bowl, the young woman spies the sage walking by. "Oh Great Sage," she calls out to him, "Have pity on a poor soul whose fate you have so cruelly sealed."

The sage stopped in his tracks and stared at the young woman. She stared back. All at once the sage saw the form of his mother in the young woman. Then he saw his sister's form. Once he had married and had a wife, and this form too he saw. And then he saw what he had been looking for all his life. He saw the Goddess. For this story was never about a young woman and a prince. It is the story of the search for the Divine Presence in our daily lives. May we be prepared to perceive that Presence when it appears before us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Becoming Heavenly

In the afterlife, Congre met some people that he had had dramas with while in the material plane. He first met Filaw, his brother, who said to him, "Well met, my brother, shall we raid heaven for the best girls?" to which Congre replied, "I'm not even sure we can do that kind of thing in the afterlife."

Filaw laughed and laughed. "You're always so complicated, Congre. Of course we can. This is heaven. We get to do what we want."
Congre said, "I'm sure there are rules."
"Show me," said Filaw, "where the rules are?"
This had Congre befuddled and he wandered off to his brother's jeers and admonitions, Filaw calling, "Congre, you partay-poop. Get an afterlife, Congre. No time like infinity."

So Congre walked a golden path for awhile which led to a forest of beautiful jewel encrusted trees. There he encountered a woman he had once had a passionate love affair with. She was resplendent in the bloom of her youth. She was beautiful. Congre remembered the scent of her flesh, the touch of her hand, the caress of her lips. He felt a rush of emotion and longed to embrace her.

"Is this really heaven," he asked, "Can we actually have anything we want?"
She laughed, "Oh Congre," she said, "You always wanted to fool yourself, so go ahead, fool yourself some more." Her words stopped him. Congre's thoughts suddenly became still. He was filled with wonder at the products of his senses. He saw the dancing illusion. And he was very, very still.

He stayed still for many minutes. Gradually his mind returned. He heard it approaching like a chattering imbecile coming up the road. He closed his eyes and focused at a point between his brows. "I've got to get to heaven," he thought over and over.

Several minutes passed. Congre opened his eyes, "Is this really heaven? he asked the beautiful girl.
She smiled and said, "Occasionally."He gazed into her lovely eyes and knew it was not for him.

Congre rose. He bid her farewell and walked through the forest onto a vast plain with a majestic city. He entered the city and found old associates, men and women he had worked with and collaborated with to make their fortunes.

"You see, Congre" they said to him, "We are rich in heaven too. You were wrong when you said we couldn't take it with us. Just look how splendidly we live here. Truly this is heaven." And they all laughed. Congre laughed too. He saw the absurdity of the whole thing.

They invited him for dinner. There would be dancing girls, they told him. But Congre gave them his sad eyes and said, "Know my brothers and sisters that I bear you no false sentiment nor do I pass judgement on what you are doing. But this is not my place. This is not heaven for me."

He bade them goodbye and passed out into the night. He walked the quiet streets for hours. As he was passing a doorway he heard a mewling noise. He looked closer and there was an emaciated child shivering under a thin blanket. The child's eyes opened wide with fear as Congre approached.
"Do not fear," said Congre as he effortlessly and gently lifted the child, "For we are in heaven now."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Unknown Savior, A Sufi Tale

Bashu lived in a village at the base of a mighty mountain. He had married when quite old by his people's standards to a much younger woman. His wife, Beganda, had been a favorite of the young men of the village. She had ignored them all and pressed her father to ask Bashu for a proposal. Bashu who had been provident in his ways offered Beganda's father several goats and three cows for his daughter's hand.

The entire village came to the wedding feast which was memorable in its unexpected opulence. People danced until the wee hours of the morning. Bashu and Beganda quietly slipped away to Bashu's house and closed the door. Once inside, they spoke earnestly to each other well into the next day and later they made love for the first time.

 It was a happy marriage that produced three children. The oldest child was quiet and solemn. The second was mischievous and playful. The youngest was filled with wonder and the joy of life.

This youngest child, a boy named Aeso, had a vision that he must climb the mountain. When he shared his vision with others in the village they laughed at him. "No one," they told him, "has ever climbed the mountain and no one ever will. Release such silly thoughts from your head." Aeso was silent, but his resolve deepened.

The waters from the mountain drained into the valley nourishing the villagers' crops. Without that water the villagers would starve. And one day the water stopped.

"What can we do?" the villagers wailed, "We are doomed. Without the water from the mountain we will all starve."

 Everyone became very discouraged and hopeless over the situation. Everyone except Aeso. He waited until night fall and then packing a rucksack with a crust of bread and some dried fruit he set out to climb the mountain.

As he went up the slope the air became cooler. Soon Aeso's hands and feet were chilled. But he kept on. When he thought the cold might kill him he came upon a solitary hut on the slope. He walked to the door and stood outside.

"Come in," the old gravelly voice of a woman called to him. Aeso entered. Through the haze in the tiny hut he saw an old woman seated beside a small fire roasting turnips. Aeso was hungry and tired so he sat down gratefully and ate with the old woman. They did not speak for some time.

When Aeso started to tell the woman of his quest, she raised her hand commanding silence, "I know why you have come," she said, "Are the people of the village so meek and fearful that they send a young boy to save them?"

Aeso said, "They do not know that I am here." to which the old woman responded, "All the more shame upon them."

"I will tell you,"she said, "what awaits you on the mountain. A group of men from the city have come and they have diverted the water away for their own purposes. These men have mighty machines which serve them and protect them. They will not listen to the words of a small boy. You must find another way. I can help you. But first tonight we must rest."

In the morning the old woman took Aeso to the opening of a cave. They entered and using a torch traveled deep into the bowels of the mountain. After many hours, they came upon a rushing underground stream. The stream disappeared into a hole in the floor of the cave. A large boulder hovered precariously near the hole.

"Come" said the old woman, "help me." And she began to throw her weight against the boulder. But it did not budge.

Aeso too pushed against the boulder but it would not move. Then his eye caught a large branch. "Where could such a branch have come from?," he wondered, "There are no trees for many miles." Nevertheless, Aeso took the branch and using it as a lever he gave a mighty pull and the boulder shifted suddenly and fell into the hole blocking the stream. The stream began to flow down the path of the cave. It flowed out of the mouth of the cave and down the side of the mountain. Far below the villagers noticed that the waters had returned. They were elated and began to rejoice.

Aeso and the old woman. however, were trapped in the cave by the rising waters and drowned.

The people of the village never knew about the old woman and Aeso. They assumed Aeso had run off to the city. But every year they hold a feast called The Return of the Waters and celebrate that which gives them life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Laughing Magician

Once there was a magician. He was a very adept magician. In fact he was the world's greatest magician who had ever lived. And he had lived a very long time.

The magician was famous for using spells which granted his clients their every wish. If a client required a beautiful companion, the magician would cast his spell and the beautiful companion would appear. The same for a palace, or an army, or a kingship, or to fly, or make money, or to be simply well-liked, any wish at all except one could be granted. The one of course was exemption from death. But this, ironically, didn't seem to bother anyone or to diminish the magician's market in any way.

He had become enormously wealthy. And enormously bored. In his two hundred years of living he had seen many exciting things. But now, nothing seemed to be a surprise. He grew despondent.

Then one day he had an idea. Why don't I, he thought, create a spell to use on myself. And that is what he did. He cast a spell which produced dramas, joys, triumphs, unhappiness, and sensual cravings. His world became fraught with violence, oppression, and vengeance but also expanded into friendships, collaborations, and relationships. All of it made him yearn for release from the evils of the world, just as it made him cling to the attachments of the world. Being in this constant twist he was always restless. This restlessness was the chief characteristic of the spell he had cast on himself. If only I could calm myself, he thought. But the spell had also made him forget that he was a magician and that he could  simply cast a spell to calm his mind. He just didn't know that he had that power.

At this point in the story there are two possible outcomes. In one, the magician goes to a doctor and complains that he is despondent and restless. The doctor prescribes a medicine that numbs the magician's emotions so that he won't have to learn to deal with them. This road leads to a cabinet full of medicines and one day the magician dies as a result of all the medications he is taking.

In the other, the magician decides to do some inner exploration. He begins to meditate regularly. He discovers things about himself. He discovers that he is actually a magician and that he has cast a spell on himself. He discovers that he has been deceiving himself. He smiles as this realization comes to him. He continues to smile. People around him start to smile. Sometimes he laughs. And the people around laugh with him. And then he dies.

In both outcomes, the magician wakes up at the moment of death to witness the fact that he has awoken from a long dream of illusions. In one outcome he was prepared for it and in the other he was not.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be A Human Being

It's not politics. It's morality. It's not possible to find abhorrent the "kill list" and the collateral damage, the night raids and the desecrations, the video game controllers that do actual killing, the war, the war, the endless war, the killing that just goes on and on and which is perpetrated by our government, it is not possible to be appalled at the violence and then to vote for the persons who are the agents of this violence. If you're against these wars then your vote says you're for them. Vote Republican. You're for more wars. Vote Democrat. You're for more wars.

This talk of reform from within is hollow and full of sad desperate illusions. We have a long line of war criminals stretching back to Nuremberg where the firebombing victors pronounced the Nazis "war criminals", and the United States was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Right after Truman had radioactively incinerated a few hundred thousand civilians.

Clinton may have exceeded Bush in war criminality when he bombed Iraqi infrastructure, water supplies and sewage treatment facilities, creating a cholera epidemic that killed 500,000 children. Is it really possible to fall for that lesser of two evils line?

Politics may be about compromise. But this is not politics. This is time to chose, to shake off the moral confusion. To raise your voice against the violence, not to vote for it. Your participation in the system feeds it. Stop feeding it. Step outside the system and speak against it. Become what morality compels you to do, requires of you. Become an enemy of the status quo. Be a human being.