Buddhism

Nancy Lucas 1942-2021

Sunday, March 27th, 2022

On Sunday attended a memorial service at the Sangha for Nancy Lucas, my age. Retired before me, about 2006.  Lost contact as part of my withdrawal from English department but heard that seven years ago she was moved by her two sons out of SLO to an Alzheimer facility where the older one lives in Healdsburg.  They organized the memorial at White Heron Sangha in Avila because she was an early member who left before I first got there.  The event was announced through the Sangha email list, but not, it seems, through the English Department. I had the impression a number of those folks, who were closer to her than I, had been personally invited, but many others were absent.

This is the third memorial for Sangha members I’ve been to: Barbara Scott, Melody Demerit, the two others.  Women I had special connections with—Barbara my therapist in 1992 and Melody my copy editor in 1998 and 2005.  Those connections were mixed with admiration: Barbara for bravery in dealing with the unimaginable pain of her rheumatoid arthritis, Melody for her steadfastness in serving on the Morro Bay City Council. And affection: Barbara for her ebullience, Melody for her bluff irreverence.

With Nancy it was different.  The most prominent thing about her was a spectacular beauty and grace.  Her head, with its great green eyes and bright red hair, seemed to float with a buoyancy that suspended the rest of her tall body. Her voice, with its slight hint of Texas drawl, seemed to sing recitative rather than talk.  And as so many of the speakers remarked, she fully shared that celebrity presence with everyone who basked in it.  An illustration in that place of a Buddhist aspiration to be fully there for other people.

And a poignant irony that someone so present lived out her life growing steadily more absent. So absent that the two adored and adoring sons who took her in care remembered, in lengthy detail, her rare moments of partially being there in laughter and song.

A picture of her at our house October 1991 during an English Faculty play reading of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal together with Mike Wenzl (1939-2017)

 

Interbeing and the Rhizosphere: An Address to the White Heron Sangha

Monday, January 31st, 2022
Interbeing and the rhizosphere

Metta and Peta: Buddhist reflections on humans’ relations with other animals

Monday, September 16th, 2019

An address to the White Heron Sangha, September 15, 2019

A variety of encounters with non-human animals over the past year have opened new areas of experience for me and left me mulling some troubling questions. They’ve led to conversations with family members, friends and co-workers, to reflections on past experiences, to scientific research and to guidance from Buddhist authorities.

One area of experience is my relationship with our two year old family dog, Sophie. Another is a series of cardiovascular incidents which have motivated  me to refrain from eating animals for medical reasons. And another is my work at City Farm SLO, where the production of organic vegetables by small farmers and students is subject to the ravages of gophers and ground squirrels.

Sophie came into my life a year after the traumatic death of our previous family dog, a Yorkshire Terrier who had bonded closely with my wife Jan and the two grandchildren who were living with us but with whom my relationship was distant.  By the time that Jan acquired Sophie, we were empty nesters, and I was a goner.

1 sophie

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The Negative Space of Buddhism in Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Monday, August 27th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, Sunday August 26, 2018

1.

One afternoon last May on my way home from working at City Farm San Luis Obispo, the car radio came on with my favorite program, Science Friday. I was surprised to hear the genial voice of Michael Pollan speaking with its host Ira Flaytow. Before I could could pick up the thread of the conversation, out popped the words psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. So that’s what he’s up to now, I thought.

Ever since I heard Pollan read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007) during a long drive to Canada ten years ago, he’s been one of my favorite writers and most informative teachers.  That book’s comprehensive reflections on the history, biology, economics, politics, and morality of America’s food system altered my tastes, motivated me to design a required general education course in argumentation at Cal Poly around its subject, and inspired me to spend a good part of my retired working life on our local urban farm. The broad impact of his work was demonstrated by a local incident that received national notoriety.  When Pollan was invited to give a public lecture here by Hunter Francis, the director of Poly’s center for sustainable agriculture, large agribusiness funders pressured the university administration to deny him an opportunity to speak unless he was part of a panel that included a professor of Beef Science from Kansas.

That book and two later short ones”In Defense of Food and Food Rules”mainstreamed attitudes about industrial agriculture, factory farming of animals, and healthy eating that had been elements of the counterculture of the sixties. As effective manifestos for change, they contributed to the revival of organic and local food movements. It struck me as fitting that he was now addressing another suppressed strain of that culture of my youth.

The conversation I tuned into was promoting a new book by Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Flaytow was dwelling on the opening theme of the subtitle”the New Science of Psychedelics.  What turned me on, however, was its coupling of Science with Consciousness and Transcendance incorporated into a “how-to” book promising doubled satisfaction, with a pun on “change your mind.” (more…)