Monday, September 22, 2008

Berkeley how I love thee...

so I have no officially been here for a month. I think it's time for some quality adventure stories from the past four weeks here in Berkeley.

Adventure Story 1, The Tree Sitters:

I don't know how many of you follow the news in Berkeley but things have been crazy around here the past couple of weeks and this is primarily due to some tree huggin locals who just won't quit. About 21 months ago some folks in the area got wind of a plan to cut down an oak and redwood grove on the Berkeley campus. So what did they do? You guessed it...they climbed into the trees, planted their roots and stayed awhile. Now when I say a while I am referring to a little less than 2 years of hanging around. These folks built epic tree houses, created supply lines and spent their days playing the guitar while perched in the highest branches of some beautiful leafy giants. When mom and I got here the grove was still intact and the sitters would wave and pose for pictures. But, by this point a fence and wall of police officers had been posted to prevent the sitters from coming down and to keep supplies from going up. Over the next few weeks the situation intensified until the final showdown a week and a half ago. My roommate and I walked down to tree sitter central on a chilly Tuesday night and were privy to a mild-mannered display of local support for the 4 remaining sitters. Folks gathered in the streets and spoke words of encouragement and hope about the sitters and the cause. As we stood listening, I couldn't help but get caught up in the nature of the gathering. I mean what is Buddhism about if not caring for and sharing this planet with our fellow beings. Anyway, I gathered up a "save the oaks" sign and stood amongst the surprisingly articulate and only slightly musky bunch of supporters sending their love up into the boughs.

The next morning, my roommate Meagan and I headed out early to stand in support of the four remaining tree sitters as an epic confrontation of Berkeley proportions unfolded. Hippies chanted, Native Americans danced, rednecks heckled, cops sweated, the media descended and tree sitters sat. I saw police wrestle with and arrest peaceful protesters, I saw tie-dye wearing supporters smoke joints and bang drums, I saw arbolists build 15 stories of scaffolding in order to surround and remove the tree sitters. I drank coffee and watched. I chatted with reporters and watched. I listened to interviews over walkee talkies with the men in trees and watched. I watched for 5 hours as the police chief and her crew rode up in a basket dangling from a crane and attempted to bargain with the sitters while, from below, construction workers steadily climbed towards the sitters. Finally, after several arrests, lots of tension and a growing crowd (now up to 500), the police chief and her nemesis reached an agreement and the tree sitters came down, guitars and all. I was standing next to a reporter when the call came in via walkee talkee from the tree sitters. I got to listen in and get the exclusive scoop on the tree sitters' motives for coming down. In their understanding, the university agreed to create a land use committee that would consist of community members and environmentalists as well as students, faculty and staff so that all future decisions could be made mindfully and with the general support of the community. A solid agreement but one that was denied immediately upon the descent of the four sitters. Heartbreaking but not surprising. They changed my relationship to trees with their display and they made headline news for over a year and a half. They raised awareness and they touched lives. Way to go tree sitters!

Adventure Story 2: Rockclimbing with TAP Donors

Few non-profits have the kind of eclectic supporters and donors that the Tibetan Aid Project is honored to have. I met several of our core supporters last weekend on a TAP retreat in Sonoma County. Our retreat center, located in Cazadero, deep in wine country and surrounded by redwoods, is the most breathtaking place I can imagine. We drove up highway 1 along the coast and winded our way through Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed) before veering east into this fairy tale land filled with mist and ferns, redwoods and four-leafed clovers. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. Anyway, I spent the weekend schmoozing the donors and served as acting wine expert because, surprising as it may be, I was the most knowledgeable wine drinker on staff. We had meetings, went on mist-filled excursions, rode around in LED-sporting golf carts, slept in cottages with hardwood floors and jacuzzi bathtubs, drank delicious wines, prepared culinary masterpieces, and generally had a whale of a time with a side of Tibetan yoga and meditation. I love my job!

While on retreat, I met two donors in particular who proved to be an adventure in themselves. The Christiani's have been to the Himalaya's 4 times and this past time they climbed to advanced base camp on Mt. Everest (21,000 of Everest's monstrous 29,000 feet). Rick is an architect who designed the coolest rock climbing gym in San Francisco and on the day that I met him he proceeded to climb the retreat center's fireplace because "it was begging to be climbed." So after a weekend of bonding, Rick and his wife Linnea invited a few of us along for a climbing adventure last Friday. By then, Grace was in town and got to go along for the climb. We climbed and we climbed and we climbed. I have never climbed so much or so well in my life. All that yoga and meditation on transforming fear has really paid off. I'm no longer terrified to scale a 3 story wall and I can focus and breathe like no body's business. During previous climbing experiences I find myself half-way up the wall shaking and praying for my life. Not this time! I climbed a 5.10 (on a scale of 5.0-5.15) and gained a new nickname from Mr. Rick Christiani. You can all now call me Liz the Lizard, no 'buts' about it! Grace kicked butt and scaled some serious walls and as a group we are officially hooked. I've made great new friends and great new contacts in the Christiani's and I can't wait to get back on the wall. Come visit and you can play too!

I hope everyone is well. I miss having my friends and family close by to share these adventures.
Amy, you'd love the lazy days filled with tea and old book stores
Cait, you'd love it all, this is your kinda place
Grace, you know what you love here
Mary, you love everything but I have some office cats you'd be particularly fond of :)
Christine, you'd love the quirky people and the outdoor lifestyle, lots of frisbee-ers etc.
Forrest, you'd love the motorcycles and local breweries
Mom, you'd love the changing weather, the chill in the Berkeley air and the clear view of the bridges that still takes my breath away
Dad, you'd love the amazing tennis courts and bicycle culture now that I've got you riding again

Berkeley's got a piece for each of you and everyone else that's reading along. I'm definitely sold on the place but if you don't believe me take your own jaunt out this way. See you soon!


Friday, September 5, 2008

working away...

Goodmorning! It's a beautiful day in my new Berkeley neighborhood. The sun has been shining since the day that I got here and the temperature has been perfect! It entertains me immensely how hard it is on everyone here when it gets to be over 80!!! That's like a beautiful breezy relief back home. Anywho, today is the last day of my second week of work and my first week of classes. I am sitting at my desk right now taking a break from productivity to write about my most recent adventures. One of our resident Llamas is on the other side of the room fighting (peacefully) with the fax machine and the 4 ft tall spinning prayer wheels that fill the office are making a nice pleasant hum as I work. There are a total of 10 of them and they never stop spinning which is really very beautiful to experience. To my left is the door out into the garden which Meagan and I always keep open because the weather is so perfect outside. On my desk is the usual array of office supplies with the addition of some a large potted fern, some post cards of Tibet and some random sacred artwork that previous volunteers have collected over time. If I look over the top of my computer at the wall (which creates a window-like space for the prayer wheels) I see this long string of 15 prayer flags fluttering with the breeze from outside. According to any Buddhist, this is a very blessed place. Both the prayer flags and the prayer wheels are said to release prayers of compassion and peace into the world when they turn and flutter.

As for the work that I should be doing right now, I was just officially dubbed Marketing Specialist, Data Specialist AND Fundraising Coordinator. That's how it is in this magical place. We all do whatever needs to be done and if we don't know how then someone teaches us and we become a specialist. It's quite and adventure let me tell you. Yesterday I made calls to wineries all over northern California to solicit donations for our benefit banquet in November and then I input all of our benefit registration and auction information into a new database before rounding out the day by designing and implementing the layout for the email version of our annual campaign letter. All in a days work here at TAP :)

Classes are going wonderfully. I am absolutely in love with Kum Nye, a gentle form of Buddhist meditative practice that centers on slow, mindful, therapuetic movement. I came out of my Kum Nye class on Wednesday and was floating for hours. I'm also taking a class on Monday called Transforming Fear which is all about the Buddhist meditative approach to fear. In that class we worked on some basic meditation techniques that help you find balance and refuge in your own body so that when fear arises you can face the fear, go into the fear and see it for what it is, transient and harmless. The same is true for all emotions, positive and negative. We played with the arising and fading of our emotions for much of class. My other classes are on compassion and meditation. The first is more lecture-based and focuses on the idea of true and absolute selflessness which produces perfect empathy. If you haven't explored the Buddhist approach to true selflessness it's quite powerful. They believe that you can transcend your "self" so completely that empathy and compassion are the natural state in which you can reside. My final class is an introduction to meditation for healing which is all about the basics of meditative practice and flows quite nicely with my other, slightly more in-depth, meditative classes. We practice opening and balancing ourselves so that natural relaxation and healing can occur. Our minds are incredibly capable of healing themselves if given the time.

I am participating in the program from morning until night and yet I feel more relaxed and energized (yes I did use both in the same sentence...VERY Buddhist) than ever. The time that we take each day to bring our minds into a restful state is already something I can't imagine being without. We need to take a break from ourselves and reconnect with just being in the moment. I hope I can get better and better at allowing myself the time and space to just be.

I think I have a knack for monstrous posts so bear with me as I try to give you more rich tastes and less feasts in the future.

With Openness and Balance :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Full Circle Wisdom is a film about the work that the Tibetan Aid Project is known for, so check it out!!!