Teacher

hb-2s
I can see the dawn only dimly this morning,
surrounded in my heavy chair
by a thick haze of thoughts.
So much to be done today; so many problems to solve.
You, light and unencumbered on your little branch,
simply, clearly present,
sing to the sky.
I stand and smile as I walk past your tree,
noticing how the day looks a little brighter.

A Memory of Pete Seeger

pete&shlomo
Count me among the millions for whom Pete Seger was a light, an inspiration, a moral compass, a teacher.

When I was 22, the Selective Service had turned down my Conscious Objector application. My choice: go fight in Vietnam, or face five years in prison.

On July 4, 1966 Reb Shlomo appeared onstage with Pete at the Berkeley Folk Festival. Pete’s presence, his music, his message and his example, strengthened my courage to refuse to fight, and to stand firm for peace. Shlomo’s presence, his music and his message, helped me connect my stance for peace to an even greater purpose – being part of bringing “the great day of love and peace” to the whole world.

As luck would have it, due to the inefficiencies of the Selective Service System, my case fell through the cracks, and I managed to avoid both the senseless killing in Vietnam and five years in prison. And that day in 1966 remains a high point of my life.

The Weekly OWL – March 4, 2013

When Our Smallest Children Are Hungry …
Friday March 1, 2013: a day of cruel irony. The beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring documentary, A Place at the Table, was released, placing hunger in America back on our national agenda. Today 1 out of every 4 American children – that’s right, 1/4 of our children – go hungry, placing us at the very bottom of a UN list of 30 industrial countries.

On this same day, March 1, a dysfunctional national government (triggered mostly by one party which has abandoned responsible governance in order to pledge allegiance to non-stop hyper-partisan warfare) pushed us into the sequester. According to the NY Times, “Policy experts are particularly concerned about cuts to the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, which provides food and baby formula for at-risk families… Up to 775,000 low-income women and their children might lose access to or be denied that aid…”

To up the ante on the irony, although we are at the bottom of industrialized countries on childhood hunger, when it comes to food production per capita, we are still number one in the world! So hunger in America is unnecessary! It not caused by scarcity; it is caused by social policy. And once upon a time, when our social policy was more enlightened and compassion had not yet become a dirty word, we actually approached the goal, in the late 1970s, of ending hunger in America.

So fast-forward to March 1, 2013. When our smallest children, one in four of them, are hungry today, how does our government respond? Unbelievably, tragically, by pushing more of them over the cliff, closer to starvation. Not a big deal according to Senator Rand Paul, who commented, “I believe the sequester is a pittance.”

Thank God, most Americans disagree. A Place at the Table has the potential to spearhead a new social movement, of millions of Americans who are reaching out to get involved, to do what our government can’t or won’t do, to act now, urgently, together, as compassionate, caring human beings.

These people taking leadership are shining examples of what we at One World Lights are calling Global Citizens – serving people in their own communities, each in their own way, reaching out to support each other, animated by the vision of one world for all of us.

A Place at the Table left my heart broken, and inspired. Inspired to reach out and become part of this new movement to end hunger in America. If you are moved to do the same, you can find practical things you can start doing, today, at A Place at the Table.

I don’t know about you, but what gets me out of bed every morning is, I want to connect with my brothers and sisters everywhere who are placing compassion for everyone at the center of their moral compass, and are acting to make it happen. And when a basic existential question arises, a question like – when our smallest children are hungry, what do we do? – to rise up and answer it together in a way that is worthy of who we are.

Approaching 70

Imagine your life, some 90 years, beginning and ending with Winter Solstice, mapped onto the cycle of a single year.

You squirm out of the dark womb onto a narrow carpet of winter light. Days get longer as you push yourself up, fall, laugh, push yourself up again, and learn to walk.

By spring you’re in your 20s, strong and georgeous in your growing physical glory, thrust onto the stage as the sap surges and earth bursts forth in flowers like a flood of light sweeping away the darkness.

You stride through June into mid-life, your longest day and brightest moment, breezing through the gateway to proudly toil in summer’s sunny fields of dreams, ambition, work, family, achievement, barely noticing, as you follow the afternoon sun, the shape of your shadow lengthening behind you.

In late September when the days and nights are equal, gazing at the candles on your table surrounded with people you’ve invited to enjoy the harvest of the field, you may notice, even as you smile at the expansive play of the young ones, an unexpected ache in your muscles and an unexpected question in your mind: what do I do with this weariness I’m feeling? Do I yield to the night and excuse myself? Or do I push against the darkness, put another log on the fire, drink more coffee, and party on?

It’s October now and you’re approaching 70. With longer nights and shorter days there is less of you visible on the stage, more time in the wings. Young people pass you by without noticing. Your true presence and greatest power – your wisdom, experience, memory, judgement, compassion, and love – are invisible to those without night vision.

It’s October and time to organize yourself for today’s shorter day. What does the world need and what do you have to give? What do your loved ones need? What do you need to sustain yourself in the days ahead? The night is giving you abundant time to prepare.

What the world will see in you today is the glistening tip of the iceberg of your whole self, itself the glistening tip of a far greater iceberg. Laugh and walk, fall and get up, love and dance and dream, act and make a difference. Together we can join hands to welcome the next season.

 

Liberty

September 23, 2012
El Granada, California

In this election season America is being bombarded with messages from the Republican right about how we need less government and more liberty. Let businesses and people make their own decisions. I learned a lesson yesterday about liberty.

Wendy and I were taking a walk through El Granada where we live. At the top of Coral Reef Avenue we step onto a trail that leads us out of the little suburban neighborhood and up into the hills. Vast open spaces high above the harbor and ocean, carpeted with wildflowers, where clusters of pampas grass, glowing in the sun and waving in the wind, dot the hillsides.

We see a couple of little girls, about seven and four years old, absorbed in playing a board game as they sit on a bench overlooking the harbor.

30 years ago when I first moved here, there were no trails above Coral Reef Avenue, only a rutted, muddy roadway where countless motorcycles and pickup trucks had made their way into the hills. The land was owned by a large corporation that was planning to build subdivisions with hundreds of homes. It was littered with mounds of garbage where bands of Hells Angels and drunken teenagers had partied. Parents warned their children about going into the hills, and it wasn’t safe for women alone. I haven’t been here for a long time.

Wendy and I follow the trail up the hillside and marvel at the views. An elderly couple and their two dogs pass us on the trail and wave. After a while Wendy decides to head back home. I watch her for a moment as she walks down the trail.

I enjoy the rest of my walk. It’s calm and peaceful up here, beautiful, great exercise.

On my way back down I see a National Park Service car. A park ranger is standing outside the car, writing something on a clipboard.

“Beautiful day!” I say.

“Yeah, it sure is!” He tells me how he’s been spending his day, checking out sections of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area between San Francisco and here.

“Is this land part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area?” I say.

“Yeah!” He says. “This is the southern end of the park, and one of my favorite places.” A local non-profit, Peninsula Open Space Trust, acquired the land and transferred it to the National Park Service.

“Wow, that’s great!” I say.

“Well,” he says, “I get mixed responses from people here.”

“Really? How come?”

“Some people don’t want to see me here, especially when I have to enforce the rules. For instance, no motor vehicles in the park, and no trash.” He gestures up to a pickup truck on the hillside. Two guys in their early 20s are pacing around nervously, smoking cigarettes. He’s writing them a citation. “There are other people here too who see me as the long arm of the government in Washington reaching into their neighborhood, taking away their liberty.”

I look back up at the two guys. They look agitated. I think about the two little girls, and the old couple with their dogs, and Wendy walking alone back alone. Liberty for whom, I think. Liberty to do what? How do we establish and secure that liberty?

I look back at the park ranger. “I’ve lived here for 30 years,” I say, “and I’m glad you’re here doing your job. Welcome to our neighborhood!”

Lesson from Ashland

August 23, 2012
Ashland, Oregon

I see men’s judgements are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them.

William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra

If Shakespeare were living in Ashland today, they’d elect him president of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with its magnificent campus downtown that includes three theaters, gardens, courtyard, and an outdoor stage, is Ashland’s second largest employer. In addition there are dozens of thriving businesses – restaurants, shops and inns – that serve theatergoers. As a successful businessman himself, Shakespeare would no doubt enjoy a hearty laugh at being a lynchpin of this economy.

In our visit this year, Wendy and I have also been drawn to something else about Ashland – Lithia Park. We began with breakfast downtown, at an outdoor table near Ashland Creek, picked up a trail nearby, and wandered up into the forested hillside. In the whole experience – the combination of wild forest with gentle landscaping, trails along the brightly flowing stream, picnic benches, duck ponds, and wild deer – we can feel the artistry of John McLaren, the landscape architect of Golden Gate Park, who was commissioned to design Lithia.

We get to a lovely place of open meadows near the stream. Wendy lies on the grass in the sun; I sit at a picnic table to compose my blog. I say hi to a female police officer walking through the park, making sure that everyone’s okay.

I’m blown away by what this town of 20,000 has accomplished. What have they done right? Is there a lesson here for other communities?

As a point of comparison, I think about the town where I live, Half Moon Bay, CA. Both places were settled by Europeans in the mid-1800s and began as agricultural settlements, both cover about 6.5 square miles, both are blessed with beautiful natural environments. Ashland, population 20,000, has Southern Oregon University within its borders. Half Moon Bay, population 11,000, is close to Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and several community colleges.

Half Moon Bay has a well-educated population with an average family income almost twice that of Ashland. Yet our amateur theater and other cultural events, and small parks, don’t come remotely close to what Ashland has. And the town is in financial trouble, downsizing everything, even eliminating the police department. (We now get police services from the county sheriff.) And the merchants on Main Street are struggling to hold on.

So what can communities like mine learn from Ashland? Sitting here at a picnic table in Lithia Park, answering this question seems beyond me. Is it about the politics, the tax structure, the local leadership? Is it about accidents of geography or history? Is it about establishing your own university? I don’t know.

Suddenly four deer show up, very close, out of nowhere. Wendy is sleeping and no other people are around. They look like a family: a mother, father, two young ones. I stay very still. They wander across the grassy field to a spot near some trees.

Wikipedia offers an interesting clue about the Shakespeare Festival and Lithia Park. They both trace their roots to the Chautauqua movement . It was an independent movement of both religious and secular people that brought culture and entertainment to people throughout rural America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Shakespeare Festival began as a facility built in 1893 to house Chautauqua events. And Lithia Park began when members of the Ladies Chautauqua Club formed the Women’s Civic Improvement Club, which petitioned the city council in 1908 for the establishment of a park in Ashland.

Maybe there’s a lesson in that. What would be the equivalent of Chautauqua today?

I set my camera on the picnic table and snap some pictures of the deer. Whatever I wind up saying on the blog, this will make a good picture.

Shalom Salaam — Part 2

August 20, 2012
Eugene, Oregon

20120822-063747.jpg

(Continued from Part 1.)

In a thick flourish of sign language, facial expressions, broad gestures, smiles, tears, occasional Arabic words and occasional strange sounding English ones, Hanin, who grew up as a deaf, religious Muslim girl in Cairo, Egypt, tells us the story of her life.

Hanin’s listeners and witnesses, besides Yitz and Shonna and Wendy and me, include two guests from Eugene, Judith and Chava. None of us can understand all the details of her story, but we all get the message. The great hardships she has had to overcome, and her enormous empathy for other deaf women in Egypt whose lives are so difficult. Her job with Egypt’s Education Ministry, focused on educating deaf children. And now, here in Eugene for this international conference, her praise for all God’s blessings, with joy, hope, gratitude, and love. Her determination to take the message of empowerment back to Egypt, and to make an even bigger difference to people there.

We all sit around the dining room table with our food contributions in the middle, spread out before us as a sumptuous feast. Earlier today, Hanin went shopping at a local natural food store for spices. She didn’t know how to describe what she wanted and couldn’t understand the labels, so what she did was, she opened up every bin and smelled them all. When she got back to Yitz and Shonna’s kitchen, she took a couple of eggplants, her newly purchased spices, and made baba ghanoush, which is sitting in a bowl on the table. We hold hands, bless the food, laugh and talk all at once, pass the dishes around. Hanin’s baba ghanoush is amazing, the best any of us have ever tasted.

As dinner progresses, the conversation between Yitz and Hanin gets too complex for either to understand the other. Not to be deterred, Yitz pulls out his laptop, fires up Google Translate, types in his question to Hanin in English, and there underneath is the same question in Arabic. Hanin laughs and claps her hands. I fire up Google Translate on my iPad with an Arabic keyboard on the screen, so she can answer. Soon we’re passing the devices around the table. Words are flying a-mile-a-minute, with everyone talking and typing at once.

Wendy has a question. She’s a nurse practioner who works in the neurology clinic at Kaiser in Hayward, California. Recently she saw a patient, a devout Muslim woman, who was suffering from severe migraine headaches. It was Ramadan. Fasting on Ramadan (or any other time) can trigger migraines, so medically it is not advised. Wendy discussed this with her patient.

“The Koran permits me to break the Ramadan fast for medical reasons,” the woman had said, “but then I will have to make it up later.”

How can this be? Wendy thought to herself. Is Islam really that harsh that it will require this woman, eventually, to suffer excruciating pain? She typed in this question onto my iPad, waited for the Arabic translation, and passed it to Hanin.

Hanin looked at the Arabic sentence, then at Wendy, then around at all of us. She set the iPad down on the table and laughed. “No, no, no!” she said, very clearly. “Allah is merciful!” In gestures and sounds, she told us the following: Allah does not want this woman to suffer. If she cannot fast on Ramadan, then what she must to is to feed the poor and hungry instead.

I honestly don’t remember if the rest of us of us broke into applause, but that was certainly the mood. Wendy’s excited. “Hanin, you’ve answered another question for me. I not only treat migraines in others; I also get them myself. For years I haven’t been able to do a complete fast on Yom Kippur, so I’ve done a juice fast, but that never feels complete. Now I know what to do.” I don’t know if Hanin understands all the words, but she smiles and reaches out to Wendy.

“It’s the same thing that Isaiah says!” says Yitz. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen?… To award your bread to the poor.”

At this point we’re all beyond words. “Maybe it’s time to say Birchat HaMazon,” I say to Yitz. The traditional thanksgiving blessing after the meal. Yitz nods and is about to start the blessing.

Suddenly Hanin reaches up, as if extending her hands to the heavens. Then she circles her arms around the table. “All one!” she says. We all do the same. All one, all one.

Yitz smiles. “Now that’s a good blessing.”

Shalom Salaam — Part 1

August 20, 2012
Eugene, Oregon

20120822-063747.jpg

The great Jewish mystic Rabbi Nachman of Breslev told a story of Seven Beggars, each of whom appears to have a disability, such as blindness or deafness. It turns out that they actually see and hear much better than the rest of us.

Shonna Husbands-Hankin calls on my cell phone as Wendy and I are driving south from Portland. She and her husband Rabbi Yitzhak would like us to join them, together with some other guests, for dinner. We’ve been hoping to have the chance to spend time with them while we’re in Eugene, so we’re delighted.

“That’s wonderful!” I say. “What can we bring? Some wine?”

“We have a house guest, Hanin, a Muslim woman from Egypt, so we’re not having wine,” she says. “Can you bring something else? And by the way, she’s deaf, doesn’t understand English, and is here on a conference. I’ll explain later.”

Six hours later Wendy and I show up at their doorstep with blueberries, blackberries, radish sprouts and kale salad. We hug Yitz and Shonna. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. Yitz is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel here, and has long been a leader in interfaith work. He’s also a student of my teacher Reb Shlomo. Shonna is a well-known Jewish artist.

They introduce us to Hanin. She’s here on a conference sponsored by Mobility International USA . MIUSA’s mission is to empower people with disabilities to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development. Their vision is a world in which the human rights, citizenship, contribution and potential of all people with disabilities are respected and celebrated.

Hanin is a woman of medium height, shining eyes and a radient, child-like impulsive smile, wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf. I smile and say “Salaam alaikum!” I don’t attempt to shake her hand because I assume that religious Muslim women, like their Orthodox Jewish counterparts, are not supposed to touch men. So I’m surprised when she reaches out with both hands to take mine. Then she lets go, gestures with both hands up toward heaven, and widens her gesture to include everyone in the room. I’m even more surprised when she, a deaf person who doesn’t understand English, speaks. The sound is strange, high-pitched, other worldly. The words are hard for me to distinguish. But the meaning is unmistakable. “The peace from God is for everyone.”

Hanin is one of 27 women from countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South America whom MIUSA has selected and paid for to come to Eugene. At home these women are typically from cultures where even in the best of circumstances, their freedom of movement, and freedom to make their own choices in life, are quite limited. With the added family shame of a disability, they and tens of thousands of their peers are typically kept behind closed doors, isolated from the rest of the world, silent, invisible. Here in Eugene, they are walking and wheel-chairing through the streets, riding on public buses, visiting the University and interacting with faculty and students, visiting the forests, even doing ropes courses.

As a supporter of the program, Yitz has facilitated other women to also stay with families from the temple. For Hanin and her fellow Muslim women from the Middle East, this is the first time any of them have any contact with a Jewish person. All they know about Jews is what they have been told at home. So they’ve have been blown away, to the point of being somewhat disoriented, by the kindness and warmth of their hosts. And their hosts have been blown away by the courage and idealism of these women.

(To be continued.)

Time Zones

20120818-132238.jpg

August 18, 2012
Cape Perpetua, Oregon.

We live simultaneously in parallel universes. Each has its own time zone. Sometimes shifting between them isn’t easy.

The sun is just rising. I’m trying to pack up and leave after a week of living in coastal forests, but something is pulling me back. My mind is confused. My hands are thick and clumsy as they try to take apart the tent poles. My heart is aching.

I hear the tumbling of the stream singing just beyond the trees in front of me. How come I haven’t been listening to this music? I let go of the tent and wander over to the stream. A melody without begining or end, touching on eternity. (Sound of the stream.)

The leaves of the tall trees on the bank reflect the early morning sun. Back at the camp site a big crow stands stands on a picnic table, crowing expectantly in anticipation of food scraps that will soon be his.

Biological time. No way to measure it. Body rhythms, getting food, eating it, eliminating it, sleep, wakefulness, movement, rest. Interaction of the web of life within itself and with everything that surrounds it, movements of sun and moon and stars and wind and water. Huge, subtle, fluid, beyond measurement. I taste it here in the forest. Something in me doesn’t want to leave.

I have to get in the car and drive four hours so I can be at Portland International Airport to pick up Wendy when her flight arrives. This requires a time zone shift — to commercial time. That’s where we spend most of our days, measured by our clocks and aps: airports, business, schools, government, entertainment, dinner dates — it’s how we get things done and coordinate with each other in the present state of human civilization. It’s the zone where we experience the ordinary stress, anxiety, pressure, hopes and fears in our lives.

Then there’s a third parallel universe — soul time. Infinite, boundless. Always available. I know how to get there, and so do you. For me, it’s where I go naturally when I’m in the forest.

I go back to the tent and the camping stuff and get everything packed up. Without functioning well in commercial time, I wouldn’t to be here in the forest, or have a car, or food, or a marriage, or friends. Without biological time, I’d be divorced from the web of life. Without soul time, there would be no real purpose to any of it.

I check out the clock on my iPhone and start up the car. I plan to be at the airport an hour early, plenty of time to deal with any contingencies and greet Wendy when she arrives.

Sheriff

August 16, 2012
Cape Perpetua, OR

20120816-170255.jpg

When I got back to my campsite at Cape Perpetua, Oregon last night, there was a sheriff’s car with flashing lights. The sheriff with his flashlight out was wondering around the campsite, looking at my stuff. “Who are you?” he said. I just looked at him.

An hour earlier, as I was standing high on the hillside above the Pacific, watching a glorious sunset, I got out my cellphone to call Wendy. The signal was weak and we could barely hear each other. “Are you okay?” she said. Then the signal cut out.

“Mr. Coopersmith by any chance?” the sheriff prompted. Then I understood. Wendy — who gets very nervous about me when I go off on my solo camping trips, had called out the posse!

Anyway, we sorted it out. He was very nice and said he was glad he could come over. Then he left. Wendy, I said to myself, shaking my head. Do you really have to do this?

Today I was chatting with the couple in the next campsite. They’re in their late 50s and travel by motorcycle. He’s big, overweight, and she’s tiny. Both have tatoos and dress like typical hard core bikers.They were curious about what was going on last night. Then the camp host wandered over. She was curious too. It was the evening’s big event at the campground and everyone was talking about it. Was the occupant of Tent Site #8 some kind of fugitive ax murderer? I sighed and told them the story.

The biker rolls his eyes.

“You know, he’s got a heart condition.” the biker woman confides about her husband. “And he’s not getting any younger. Sometimes when he goes off on one of his rides, I wonder if he’s okay.”

“We’ve got great law enforcement coverage here,” chimes in the camp host. “When we need ’em, they come!”

I share with all of them my story about the law enforcement vacuum in Southern Oregon. When I stayed with my friends Bob and Rochelle* down there, they told me about it. It seems that years of refusal by voters to provide the tax base needed had finally resulted in the inevitable — closing police and sheriff’s offices in rural areas. “When you dial 911, nothing happens,” I say.

The biker looks startled. “Really?” he says.

“Really,” I say. “My friends down there say local people are buying more guns to try to protect themselves.”

He stands there in his leather and chains and tatoos, his eyes open wide. “That’s scary!” he says. We all nod.

“Well, the scariest thing we have around here are crows,” says the campground host. “Big ones — not scared of anything! Watch out or they’ll get into your food.”

The biker woman, with a tatooed serpent peering out on her shoulder, looks at me again. “Isn’t it wonderful that your wife called the sheriff!” she said. “You should feel good, knowing someone’s looking out for you!”

The campground host loudly agrees. “You’re very lucky!” she says.

I think about that. Maybe this is blog material.

(* Not their real names.)

Imagine if for Five Minutes You were God

August 14, 2012
On a hillside along the Oregon Coastal Trail, overlooking the highway and ocean.

20120815-133913.jpg

Imagine if for just five minutes you could be God. You could be anywhere you want, everywhere you want, all at the same time.

You could drive any car You wanted, wherever You wanted, just by getting inside the person behind the wheel. You could leave the driving to the person and kick back and relax while the scenery of Your creation rolled by. The person, unconscious that You were there, would of course have his own agenda — passing the slow poke ahead, looking for a place to stop for lunch, wondering if they have wifi so he can catch up on his email — but none of that would be a concern of Yours. You could just enjoy the view.

At the same time, You could get inside a wildflower up on the hillside above and watch grass and tree branches dancing in the wind, sea gulls circling overhead, white-cap ocean wavelets drifting serenely toward shore, cars speeding by like scurrying ants on the highway below. You could feel Your world from inside someone who stays in the same place for 10 days, and then is gone.

If you were God, You could notice the instant, the one where the person and the flower, so different yet so connected, could see each other. (For You of course, the optics would not be a problem.) Of all the possible thrills on Your travels through creation, imagine this one: in that one instant, looking, seeing, recognizing, reuniting with, You.

A Rough Start

20120813-013000.jpg

Friday, August 10, 2012

I had the first inkling that this trip wouldn’t go as planned when I was three hours late getting started.

So I consulted Google Maps on my iPad. With the vast information it can assemble about everyplace I’m going, together with it’s GPS function, Google Maps has become my main travel tool. I rarely bring paper maps anymore. And with my car charger to keep the iPad charged, I can use it as much as I want, even when I’m on the road camping. And I’ve been looking forward to using my iPad for my favorite activity when I’m alone in nature and my thoughts are open and expansive: blogging. That way I can put my insights into words, and also be connected to others even while I’m alone.

Google Maps said I could get to Humbold Redwoods State Park by 5:30, still plenty of time to set up the tent, make dinner, build a small campfire, enjoy a nice glass of wine, and have a relaxed first evening of my long awaited vacation.

I set off on Highway 1 north along the Pacific coast in a cheerful mood. Then reality hit me. Traffic. Tons of it. Through each county heading north, bumper to bumper creep: San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino. This was not the light hearted, speeding getaway, with the wind in my face and open country all around, that I had imagined.

What happened? The problem was a basic epistomological error: I was thinking about myself. It was all about what I wanted to accomplish, and the information immediately in front of me about how to get there. The error? Ignoring the larger system of which I’m a part. Mid-summer, lots of families taking off on Friday for a vacation or a weekend, 50% more vehicles in California than 30 years ago and almost no new roads for them to drive on.

I sat in traffic as the hours ticked by, watching the sun get lower in the sky. Then I discovered something that gave me a brand new flash of panic: the iPad car charger was dead. After pushing and pulling it as many ways as I could while manuvering through the stop and go traffic on the freeway, I was forced to accept the inevitable. I’d have to get around with very restricted use of my main travel tool, and to defer the blogging.

As the sun kept getting lower and the traffic barely budged, I was feeling bummed. Get a life, I said to myself, none of this is life and death!

Yeah, came the answer, but this isn’t the vacation I was looking forward to.

I struggled to set up the tent in the dark. After a half hour, I had to admit defeat, take it all apart, and start all over. I was so frazzled I kicked the camp lantern and broke it. So now I had to rely on my two tiny mini-flashlights for light, which made everything much harder. The second try with the tent was worse than the first. On the third, I lucked out.

By the time I was ready to set up dinner it was 10 PM. I was the last diner at the campsite. Everyone else was either asleep, or drinking and partying.

It was Friday night, time for welcoming and honoring the Sabbath with candles, wine, and a special meal. The total point of my leaving on Friday, usually my busiest work day, was to have a Sabbath of peaceful contemplation in the forest. I felt like a total failure at this.

Still, I pushed gamely forward. I managed the wine and candles. Dinner was simpler than planned: a can of tuna. Fortunately I was able to augment it with a few things I had picked up on the way: salad greens, grape tomatoes, blueberries, and a bar of Cadburry’s dark chocolate.

The wine tasted great and so, I had to admit to myself, did everything else. The dark chocolate and cabernet went especially well together. In fact, this was one of the tastiest meals I’d had in a long time! For the first time all day, I had to laugh.

Then I looked up and saw, dimly revealed in the light of the candles and my two mini-flashlights, the tall redwoods surrounding me. In all of my angst, I had forgotten to notice. They seemed like wise, silent, ancient holy beings, welcoming me among them. What a privilege; what a blessing! It hit me how deeply I’ve been wanting to be here, to sit with them. To slip out of the stressed out, driven, judgemental, endlessly busy mind that confines me every day. To re-experience the larger self, the one I know I really am, the one that is interconnected with them and with all the other beings on this planet.

As long as we have bodies, the busy mind, which the Kabbalists call “small mind,” will pull us around through the three ring circus of desire, fear and judgement. And as long as we are the larger, interconnected self, which the Kabbalists call “great mind,” we can stop and notice what’s going on, no matter what it is, and then say, “Okay. Who do I choose to be now?”

My heart was filled with gratitude. For the first time all day, I felt at peace.