Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Humanity of Love

I realize I haven't blogged in some time. I wonder why that is. Did I get so caught up in the euphoria of 11/4, against my better senses, that I actually believed that love would reign once again? But....has it ever? Whatever the reason may have been, I now find myself filled with cynicism about love's manifestations in society. After Zimbabwe today declared a national cholera emergency in what was once the breadbasket of Africa - all because of a megalomaniac's utter disregard for his people, after last week's terror attacks in Mumbai, after the way the "insignificant" hotel worker or cab driver's personal sacrifices to help those in distress during the attacks was not at all celebrated by mainstream media, after the reports about the irreversible effects of climate change and global warming, after the sectarian strife in Jus, Nigeria leaving hundreds dead, after CEOs of the Big Three in the US had the audacity to ask for a bailout from the government but remained silent as to whether they were willing to give up their private jets....after all this, it is difficult to believe that love can actually prevail over the groundswell against peace and justice.

So I'm back here, realizing more critically than ever that we need to talk about love. Just today I was reminded of this, and what immediately came to mind was a poet I have had the good fortune of seeing in person. Her name is Shailja Patel, a Kenyan woman. You can check out her work at What I was particularly reminded of was a sentiment she shares with her audiences - that for every poem she writes about greed, hatred, violence, and injustice, she promises to herself that she will a poem about love.

It's not about giving up the fight - but just making sure that we fight with love in our veins, in our blood, in our hearts, all around us. Otherwise, it is easy to be overwhelmed, to crumble beneath the weight of it all...and if we do that, haven't the forces that we rail against -- the forces that suppress peace and justice -- haven't those forces won out in the end anyway?

So here I share with you one of Shailja's poems about love. A tough love, a love that is earned. I hope you enjoy it.

Shilling Love
Shailja Patel


They never said / they loved us

Those words were not / in any language / spoken by my parents
I love you honey was the dribbled caramel / of Hollywood movies / Dallas / Dynasty / where hot water gushed / at the touch of gleaming taps / electricity surged / 24 hours a day / through skyscrapers banquets obscene as the Pentagon / were mere backdrops / where emotions had no consequences words / cost nothing meant nothing would never / have to be redeemed

My parents / didn't speak / that / language
1975 / 15 Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my mother speaks battle
Storms the bastions of Nairobi's / most exclusive prep schools / shoots our cowering / six-year old bodies like cannonballs / into the all-white classrooms / scales the ramparts of class distinction / around Loreto Convent / where the president / sends his daughter / the foreign diplomats send / their daughters / because my mother's daughters / will / have world-class educations

She falls / regroups / falls and re-groups / in endless assaults on visa officials / who sneer behind their bulletproof windows / at US and British consulates / my mother the general / arms her daughters / to take on every citadel

1977 / 20 Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my father speaks / stoic endurance / he began at 16 the brutal apprenticeship / of a man who takes care of his own / relinquished dreams of / fighter pilot rally driver for the daily crucifixion / of wringing profit from business / my father the foot soldier, bound to an honour / deeper than any currency / you must / finish what you start you must / march until you drop you must / give your life for those / you bring into the world

I try to explain love / in shillings / to those who've never gauged / who gets to leave who has to stay / who breaks free and what they pay / those who've never measured love / by every rung of the ladder / from survival / to choice

A force as grim and determined / as a boot up the backside / a spur that draws blood / a mountaineer's rope / that yanks / relentlessly / up

My parents never say / they love us / they save and count / count and save / the shilling falls against the pound / college fees for overseas students / rise like flood tides / love is a luxury / priced in hard currency / ringed by tariffs / and we devour prospectuses / of ivied buildings smooth lawns vast / libraries the way Jehovah's witnesses / gobble visions of paradise / because we know we'll have to be / twice as good three times as fast four times as driven / with angels powers and principalities on our side just / to get / on the plane

Thirty shillings to the pound fourty shillings to the pound / my parents fight over money late in the night / my father pounds the walls and yells / I can't -- it's impossible -- what do you think I am? / My mother propels us through school tuition exams applications / locks us into rooms to study / keeps an iron grip on the bank books

1982 / gunshots / in the streets of Nairobi / military coup leaders / thunder over the radio / Asian businesses wrecked and looted Asian women raped / after / the government / regains control / we whisper what the coup leaders planned

Round up all the Asians at gunpoint / in the national stadium / strip them of what / they carry march them / 30 miles / elders in wheelchairs / babies in arms / march them 30 miles to the airport / pack them onto any planes / of any foreign airline / tell the pilots / down the rifle barrels / leave / we don't care where you take them / leave

I learn like a stone in my gut that / third-generation Asian Kenyan will never / be Kenyan enough / all my patriotic fervor / will never turn my skin black / as yet another western country / drops a portcullis / of immigration spikes / my mother straps my shoulders back with a belt / to teach me / to stand up straight

50 Kenyan shillings to the pound / we cry from meltdown pressure / of exam after exam where second place is never good enough / they snap / faces taut with fear / you can't be soft / you have to fight / or the world will eat you up

75 Kenyan shillings to the pound / they hug us / tearless stoic at airports / as we board planes for icy alien England / cram instructions into our pockets like talismans / Eat proper meals so you don't get sick / cover your ears against the cold / avoid those muffathias / the students without purpose or values / learn and study / succeed / learn and study / succeed / remember remember remember the cost of your life
they never say / they love us


I watch how I love / I admonish exhort / like a Himalayan guide I / rope my chosen ones / yank them remorselessly up / when they don't even want to be / on the frigging mountain like a vigilante squad I / scan dark streets for threats I / strategize for war and famine I / slide steel down spines

I watch heat / steam off my skin / when Westerners drop / I love yous into conversation / like blueberries hitting / soft / muffin dough / I convert it to shillings / and I wince

December 2000 / 120 shillings to the British pound / 90 Kenyan shillings to the US dollar / my sister Sneha and I / wait for our parents / at SFO's international terminal

Four hours after / their plane landed / they have not emerged
And we know with the hopeless rage / of third-world citizens / African passport holders / that the sum of their lives and labour / dreams and sacrifice / was measured sifted weighed found / wanting / by the INS

Somewhere deep in the airport's underbelly / in a room rank with fear and despair / my parents / who have travelled / 27 hours / across three continents / to see their children / are interrogated / by immigration officials

My father the footsoldier / numb with exhaustion / is throwing away / all the years / with reckless resolve / telling them / take the passports / take them / stamp them / no readmission EVER / just let me out to see my daughters

My mother the general / dizzy with desperation / cuts him off shouts him down / demands listen to me I'm the one / who filled in the visa forms / in her mind her lip curls she thinks / these Americans / call themselves so advanced so / modern but still / in the year 2000 / they think it must be the husband in charge / they won't let the wife speak

On her face a lifetime / of battle-honed skill and charm / turns like a heat lamp / onto the INS man until he / stretches / yawns / relents / he's tired / it's late / he wants his dinner / and my parents / trained from birth / to offer Indian / hospitality / open their bags and give their sandwiches / to this man / who would have sent them back / without a thought

Sneha and I / in the darkened lobby / watch the empty exit way / our whole American / dream-bought-with-their-lives / hisses mockery around our rigid bodies / we swallow sobs because / they raised us to be tough / they raised us to be fighters and into that / clenched haze / of not / crying

here they come

hunched / over their luggage carts our tiny / fierce / fragile / dogged / indomitable parents

Hugged tight they stink / of 31 hours in transit / hugged tighter we all stink / with the bravado of all the years / pain bitten down on gargantuan hopes / holding on through near-disasters / never ever / giving in / to softness

The stench rises off us / unbearable / of what / was never said
Something / is bursting the walls of my arteries something / is pounding its way up my throat like a volcano / rising / finally / I understand / why I'm a poet

Because I was born to a law / that states / before you claim a word you steep it / in terror and shit / in hope and joy and grief / in labour endurance vision costed out / in decades of your life / you have to sweat and curse it / pray and keen it / crawl and bleed it / with the very marrow / of your bones / you have to earn / its / meaning

Monday, October 27, 2008

May the Light of Diwali Fill You

Dear Friends,

May the promise of the New Year lead us out of darkness....and into light, out of war....and into peace, out of misunderstanding....and into love, and out of sorrow...and into happiness. Happy Diwali to All. Touch your heart with the light of the New Year.

With my love,

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Doing Justice to Love

It is possible to strive for justice and love simultaneously, in fact it is the only way....

"Love without justice is sentimental and anaemic. Justice without love is rigid and tyrannical. Justice, at its highest, creates the conditions that allow love to flourish. Love, at its highest, removes all obstacles to justice."

Martin Luther King

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Real-Eyes'ing Love

When we come to an understanding, actually an over-standing, about something, it's often said we realized something, but what does that really mean? To "re-al-ize" is to have what my mentor calls "real-eyes," to see into the heart of whatever, or whomever, it is you are trying to (over)stand with realness, with vision. Real-eyes'ing something is about piercing the heart of reality with the gift of sight.

And this isn't about physical vision, because as my mentor said, "you probably don't real-eyes how quickly you can transmute what you visual-eyes into visual-lies, hate from what you love." This is about seeing with your eye of wisdom, your jnana chakshu, also known as your divine eye, or divya chakshu. That is the picture above. It is through this center, your third eye, that you receive revelation and in-sight (there's that sight again!) into the underlying nature of the world. It is here where direct communication occurs between us, and the doorway through which we enter into another dimension. Where we see each other clearly, and perhaps (over)stand each other for the first time. When we have this (over)standing, my friends, we can't help but love truly.

It's such a magical thing to touch your own chakshu, or sight, and through it, cultivate deep love for someone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tupac's Rose

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it's dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.

--Tupac Shakur

Tupac's rose is like the lotus flower in the last post. Cradle and nurture it now before it disappears, before beauty and joy and love are lost.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Holding the Darkness and the Light Together

I realize that my motivation for blogging about love was all the negativity out and about in the world. I was and am just plain old tired of it. I see the negativity affecting people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I see it affecting me. But in calling for a collective "quest" for love, I realize I got it wrong. It is actually self-defeating to look for love completely free of any negativity. One of my spiritual mentors recently reminded me that we must hold the light and the darkness together. Because if we reach only for the light, we will be disappointed. Light alone is illusionary. Light that co-exists with darkness is not.

In fact, the more we talk about "looking for" love, we miss the very valuable joy that exists NOW, the joy that maybe we only see glimpses of at present, but that needs to be nurtured and grown like anything that is cared for. That picture above is of a lotus flower, a flower found throughout India. What is special to me about the lotus flower is that it is born from and grows amidst mud and muck, slowly growing up towards the waters' surface and continually moving towards the light. Although some may give up on the lotus flower, those who don't and who nurture it are treated to pure beauty when it blossoms. The kamala, born of the lotus, emerges.

Let us awaken to the love around us now, not just the 'ideal' love we crave at some illusory point in the future. Let's hold darkness and light together. Let's celebrate the shining of the light, as faint as it may be, into the darkness.

Do you remember what Gibran says? He says we can't separate one from the other. "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

May I not give up on the love that exists NOW in my life and in the world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Daily Prayer

The Dalai Lama says the following prayer every day....I think it captures what love ultimately can be, but as you will see from my suggested addition to the poem, I think we first need to start with cultivating self-love.... What do you think?

"May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need."

I would add to the last sentence,
"And a servant to all in need, starting with myself."

My Love

A poem from Gloria Alfreds, a poet from Cape Town, South Africa:

My Love for You
Is not like a tap
You open and close
My Love for You
Is constant and ever flowing
My Love for You
Is like a Seed
That is planted
Forever growing
My Love for You
Is like the Light of Day
You just know
The Sun's going to Shine Anyway
So Share in this Love
And know that ours is
A Love Everlasting!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Strong Women

I came across this poem in my friend Ramona's page. This goes out to all my strong sisters out there, and to all those who love strong sisters. :)

A Strong Woman

A strong woman
is one who feels deeply
and loves fiercely.
Her tears flow
just as abundantly
as her laughter.

A strong woman
is both soft and powerful.
She is both
practical and spiritual.

A strong woman
in her essence
is a gift to all the world.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Do Small Acts With Great Love

If life is hip hop, and hip hop is life, shouldn't an MC use her microphone not only to give voice to THE truth OUT THERE but also to HER truth WITHIN? Can she rhyme about society's ills if she can't reveal her own ills? Can she ask us to confront the evil in the world if she hasn't stared the evil within her in its face? How can we expect society to cure itself of all with which it is plagued, when she can't cure herself? Can we afford to preach goodness in the world but check our preaching at the door to our own home? Am I so busy spreading social justice, that I forget about my personal justice and justice to those I love? Can I make change from an island where I stand alone, or must I first make change within my own complex ecosystem?

Love begins at home. We need to heal ourselves so that we can heal the hood. You see, it is all one. We are not separate from the world out there - when harm is done to the world, harm is done to us. When we do harm to ourselves, and those around us, we do harm to the world. Yesterday, an amazing artist and person I know, Leon, sent me one of his favorites quotes - the Hermetic principle: "As above, so below; as within so without." It is all one - we are fooled into thinking that the distinction is real between our inner journey and our journey in the world.

I grew up in the Hindu tradition, but went to Christian schools. I used to believe that Hinduism / Buddhism were selfish religions because there was such an emphasis on liberating the self and self-enlightenment. The other religions seemed to explicitly talk about serving others. So my righteous social justice-oriented self resisted Eastern traditions for that reason. It was only as an adult that I read more in Buddhism and realized that I'm not ready to serve the world until I have served myself, until I have examined my own suffering and how it impacts me and those around me. When you can finally start to create love within, that love becomes so powerful that it emanates outwards, and then people in the world can absorb it. Activists said, "We don't want you to come here to do good until you've worked on yourself and done good by you and by those around you."

The shattering of that duality was an important lesson for me. There's a lot of folks out there talking the talk of progressivism, compassion, peace, justice, self-knowledge, but who haven't really figured out what it means for themselves. And in the process they hurt more than just themselves.

So I encourage you to try incorporating these love lessons into your own personal life:

-- stay mindful of all your actions and words; don't let your dark side become your master - in everyday situations, strengthen your faith in the positive aspects of your mind - love, compassion, honest communication, empathy, and patience

--meet each moment with pure love, give as much as you can to those around you with the intention of pure love, because each moment is precious and cannot be taken for granted

--value the gift of the relationships you share with those you love, no opportunity should be lost in being kind, letting go of petty issues and forgiving, in being generous, in bringing as much comfort as you can to those who may need it

--make sure that those you love know beyond a shadow of a doubt how much you love them - by everything you say, everything you do, and everything you show them. It makes all the difference.

Gandhi's words were timeless in their truth: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." Practice love in your own lives and the world will change. Just you watch.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Love is a Bridge Between Us

A lot of what I have learned about "rising to the challenge of love" has been from my dear friend Ron and his late partner Gordon Thomas. Gordon was a filmmaker and spent the better of the five years I knew him working on his stop-motion puppet film "Pedro and Tony?" The film is a touching story of the six month anniversary of a dog named Pedro, and his boyfriend, who just happens to be a chicken, Tony. The two planned a special date, but aren't prepared to deal with the unexpected "little things" that go wrong. After their anniversary presents get broken, and dinner is burned, the couple ends up fighting and it all comes out - prejudice, disappointment, anger, and passive aggression. The couple decides to recommit themselves to each other with new forms of communication and understanding of how they hurt one another.

To go along with the film, Gordon came up with a sheet called "Pedro and Tony's Love Tips" to help couples overcome difference, find common ground and deepen their love. I'd like to share those tips here with you. For if we can overcome difference and find our shared humanity, wouldn't that be a powerful thing? Imagine what impact that could have on the world if we could just do it between ourselves.

Pedro and Tony's Love Tips:

You may be surprised to know that despite our obvious differences, deep down everyone in love basically wants the same things. The trick is understanding that how you go about getting what you want is probably very different from how your partner does it. So, try these simple tips:

1. Help create an environment that allows trust to grow.

2. Be clear with each other about where and when it is appropriate to mark the hallway with your "special smell."

3. Take the risk to communicate your needs, wants and feelings. Listen with an open mind to your partner's needs, wants, and feelings.

4. You may love crowing your lungs out at five in the morning, Your partner may hate it. This is normal. Find a solution that truly works for both of you.

5. Ask for what you want and need. Help your partner get what they want and need. Allow each other to help in ways that you individually see fit.

6. Fur happens. At first your partner may think its cute, but later on it's a real pain in the butt. Clean up after yourself!

7. Your partner's feelings aren't your fault. But do take them seriously. However frivolous they may seem, if they were your feelings you'd be serious.

8. Do take responsibility to making peace and harmony between you and your partner. Help them to do the same. We suggest rolling in the grass together.

9. Allow you and your partner to make mistakes. After all, we're only canine / poultrine / feline / rodentan / camelian / mesplodon / balaenopteran ... etc, etc.

10. Don't Growl or Squawk at your partner. Just talk things out, Talk some more. Love is hard work and most of that work is communicating, listening, being patient, being respectful, and understanding. You can do it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Meaning of Love

Some Great Philosophers were asked about the meaning of love. Here is what they had to say.....oh, and yes, they are between the ages of 4 and 8. Just goes to show how much we have to learn from our young friends....

Send me your thoughts about love....I'd love to hear from you.

"Love is that first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way."

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."

"When someone loves you, the way she says your name is different. You know that your name is safe in her mouth."

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs."

"Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don't yell at him because you know it would hurt his feelings."

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."

"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss but they look happy and sometimes they dance in the kitchen while kissing."

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate."

"Love is hugging. Love is kissing. Love is saying no."

"When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared she won't love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only does she still love you, she loves you even more."

"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."

"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they've know each other so well."

"During my piano recital, I was on a stage and scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."

"Love is-if you hold hands and sit beside each other in the cafeteria. That means you're in love. Otherwise, you can sit across from each other and be okay."

"My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night."

"Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken."

"Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford."

"If you want somebody to love you, then just be yourself. Some people try to act like somebody else, somebody the boy likes better. I think the boy isn't being very good if he does this to you and you should just find a nicer boy."

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day"

"When you're born and see your mommy for the first time.

"Love goes on even when you stop breathing and you pick up where you left off when you reach heaven."

"My enemies taught me how to love."

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."

"You have to fall in love before you get married. Then when you're married, you just sit around and read books together."

"Love cards like Valentine's cards say stuff on them that we'd like to say ourselves, but we wouldn't be caught dead saying."

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."

"Love is when mommy sees daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross."

"You never have to be lonely. There's always somebody to love, even if it's just a squirrel or a kitten."

"You can break love, but it won't die."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eid Mubarak

Today is a special day to celebrate faith and love of God. Eid Mubarak!!

Here's a sweet story about celebrating faith from the movie "Paris, Je T'Aime." If you haven't seen it, PLEASE do. Its a film with 18 different stories about love. Let me know which are your faves....

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Answering Love's Call

So a wise old soul recently gifted me with a copy of bell hooks' book All About Love. bell hooks says that everywhere she turns, she is bombarded with images about the importance of love, or the way love makes you feel. But nowhere does anyone try to define love. She talks about her struggle over the years searching in vain for a meaningful definition of the word love. Finally, she finds an old definition that seems right. Here's the definition:

Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth....Love is as love does. Love is an act of will namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to.

Interesting. So this definition includes different kinds of love -- romantic love, love of self, love of vocation, love of God, love of family, and even love of humanity. Ultimately, its something we choose to do with both our intentions and our actions. We are called upon to do love's work, and whether we respond is up to us.

And that work aint' easy. Here's what Kahlil Gibran, the poet, has to say about love's work:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart....

So when I think about how this applies to the world around us, I think of this. If we are called upon to do love's work, and it isn't always easy, when we encounter hatred and greed, lying and anger, selfishness and corruption, we are being called upon to love those people, those forces, who are engaging in these vices.

How would we do that? Well, there's at least one approach in something called metta meditation. 'Metta' means loving kindness. The idea is to generate unconditional loving kindness for all beings. All beings suffer, and because we are all deeply connected, then we can wish for them to be well, happy, and free from the causes of suffering. With compassion, we can lift the veil of negativity to see that behind it sits not a demon, but a being who is truly suffering. Maybe its a politician, maybe its a CEO of a corporation, maybe its a romantic partner. And maybe that being isn't ready to heal himself or herself, but at least we can cultivate love - through intention and action - for them. And if enough of us can do this, collectively we can cultivate enough love to counter the effect of all the suffering out there.

It isn't easy. And it takes time. But keep believing. Hold on to The Promise of's Tracy Chapman on that.

Intro to LoveNotes

I've never blogged before, but because of the magnitude of the conflict and craziness and deceit and anger and hostility and war and hate that exists at present in the world around us, I felt the need to counter it all with a place to write about love. We need more love in the in our everyday lives. Otherwise, its easy to internalize all the negativity we see all around us. Join me on a journey of celebrating and cultivating love!!