A song for Mumia Abu-Jamal

17 years ago, my friend David and I made a hip-hop track to support political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. We called our band Buddha Mind. This, our only single, is “Freedom of Speech.”

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AUDIO: Reading poetry to Rotarians (23 June 2016)

Photo by Radio's Don Bedell

Photo by Radio’s Don Bedell

Today I did a 15-minute poetry reading at the Downtown State College Rotary Club. Thanks very much to Jason Browne for inviting me, and to the club members for their gracious attention. You can listen to the entire reading using the player above, or download the mp3 using the link.

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A Meditation Confession

On December 17, 2015, I stopped meditating.

Screenshot_2016-06-21-17-16-01I’d been meditating at least 20 minutes a day for more than three years without missing a day, and in an on-and-off way for many more years than that. In fact, I tracked my meditation on an app called Meditation Helper. It has a little widget (pictured) that helped me remember to meditate and held me accountable for doing it every day because I didn’t want to reset the “longest streak” count to zero. As you can see, I was at 1,209 consecutive days when I missed one day and stopped completely. I was so shocked that I’d missed that day that it was like the wind went out of my meditative sails. That was more than six months ago.

In those intervening months, I haven’t considered myself less of a Buddhist, though I’ve felt a combination of guilt and sadness over not getting to the cushion. In March, slightly less than four months after I stopped meditating, I started walking every day, which has made a big difference and has, in some ways, become like meditation.

During this hiatus, I’ve read a few very valuable Buddhist books. One was Don’t Be A Jerk by Brad Warner, a wonderful look at the work of Dogen. I’m about halfway through the latest book by Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism, a brilliant and inspiring look at secular Buddhism and the Pali canon. A few days ago, I read Lodro Rinzler’s brief Sit Like A Buddha, which, while aimed at new meditators, still contained a perspective I found refreshing. I’m also reading Chogyam Trungpa’s Shambhala: The Sacred Heart Path of the Warrior, a classic text of almost-Buddhism that, like Batchelor’s book, is very secular in its approach. These books helped me engage with my practice even when I wasn’t actively sitting each day. Are books a substitute for meditation? No. But they can help refuel your tank when it’s been depleted.

Two days ago I started sitting again. I’m using the same app, though I’m having second thoughts about it. I wonder whether it might be healthier just to set an alarm on my phone but not track the consecutive days. In any case, I’m glad to be back on the cushion.

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AUDIO: I’m so tired of all of this


This morning on The Morning Mixtape, I’m struggling to be upbeat in light of the hatred on display every day in our world. Here’s some audio from the show.

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Two bulldozers with one stone: altering my activism

onasia_environmental_exhibition-550x369I’ve been thinking recently about the types of activism I’ve been involved in over the past 25 years. For the most part I gravitate toward social and economic justice issues, and anti-war work. I’ve done very little, if any, environmental activism.

Now, however, the more I look around at the world we’re living in, and the more I think about the planet on which my children will grow up and perhaps raise their own families, the more I’m convinced that there’s no greater need than to mitigate the effects of global warming.

I’m not talking about saving the planet. To quote one of my gurus, George Carlin: “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.” He was right. The planet will be here long after humans are gone. Nor am I trying to save the trees or the whales or the bottle-butted blue-nosed snorklewhammer. Instead, my desire to do more is motivated by two things, one selfish and one less so:

1. I’d like to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and healthy food to eat.

2. I believe in the principle of ahimsa, which means to do as little harm as possible.

Yes, I’d like there to be beautiful vistas and massive forests and rolling oceans and, you know, the Solomon Islands and all that. But really, it’s those two principles – self-preservation (and the protection of my children’s future) and the idea of doing as little harm as possible – that are motivating me.

Recently I’ve been reading Edward Abbey. I finished Desert Solitaire a couple weeks ago, and I’m reading The Monkey Wrench Gang now. It’s hard to read Abbey and not feel compelled to get out there and cause trouble in the name of stopping our continued destruction of our habitat. Plus I naturally tend toward direct action rather than lobbying or making phone calls. I believe in the words of Mario Savio:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

I mentioned that I gravitate toward social justice and economic justice work. As it turns out, a benefit of working to change the way we live and the impact we have on our environment is that our most destructive behaviors tend to harm not only the environment, but also the people who do the work and the people impacted by that work.

At the root of all of this, in my opinion, is our unsustainable system of corporate capitalism and plutocracy. This means that working on environmental issues can very directly involve striking at the heart of our capitalist system. Two bulldozers with one stone, so to speak.

I’m not saying anything new, nor I have reached a definitive answer about the direction of my activism. But I do think it’s time for me to change what I’m doing, and start focusing on either stopping the destruction or, if it’s too late for that, on figuring out how to live in the very different world that will emerge. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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What I Read In April


I thoroughly enjoyed my April reading. I finally caught up on back issues of The Sun, Barrelhouse and The Baffler. I also finally read Edward Abbey’s brilliant Desert Solitaire. I’m a big fan of Sparrow, so I was excited to get to read his new book ahead of its release in May. I’m still reading the wonderful manga series Lone Wolf & Cub. And finally I read (and was underwhelmed by) a couple new comics. How about you?

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