Profile of a (R)evolutionary: Grace Lee Boggs

Hi world.  It’s been a loooong time since I have blogged.  So I figured I’d start back up with my adopted grandma in Detroit and share with you about her and how she inspires me every day.  What has inspired you today?

Grace Lee Boggs is a 97-year old woman who has lived through every social movement of the 20th IMG_0154Century.  She has published books that have been translated into many languages and continues to write a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen.  She has received numerous honorary degrees including doctorates from the University of Michigan, Wooster College, Kalamazoo College, and Wayne State University.  She was the first to translate some of Marx’s economic and political manuscripts of 1844 into English. Grace participated deeply from the March on Washington to now as Detroiters fight for democracy in our own city. She has been a part of and an inspiration for many projects in Detroit from Kevin of Singing Tree arborist business to the people who are currently working on starting the Boggs Education School.  So what is it that makes this woman relevant to our struggles as individuals and a community today?  Why are people coming from all over the world to learn from her?

Some people come because of her connections with Marxist, C.L.R. James.  Others because they see Detroit as an epicenter of the new U.S. (r)evolution.  Still others because she is 97, “still has all of her marbles” (as she says), and has lived through decades of life that most of us have never had the privilege to see other than in our history books.  I think that these experiences and focus does make her relevant; however, I think that the secret to her life that many people are seeking to find in their own is that throughout her life, she has maintain a great curiosity for the world, a strong sense of commitment to her community, and a willingness and openness to change.

On Grace's 95th birthday: Marcia Lee, Grace Lee Boggs, Grace Lee

On Grace’s 95th birthday (from left) Marcia Lee, Grace Lee Boggs, Grace Lee

I first met Grace when I was 20 and just started to come to Detroit because of work being done with the Asian Pacific Islander American community there and as a member of a spring break trip to Detroit.  Since that time she has become the equivalent of my grandmother in Detroit.  Throughout the years that I have known her, I have seen many people come to her looking for answers, and she reminds them that they have their answers within themselves in the context of their community.   She inspires me because of her stubborn tenacity to growth and to challenge other people to grow.  Grace has never lost her fervor for learning new things and pushing her own and other’s growing edges.  This is really what makes her relevant today.

Most recently, Detroit was forced by the governor of Michigan to lose our democracy through an emergency financial manager.  Instead of feeling defeated, Grace recently excitedly told me that with the forcing of the emergency financial manager, we now have an opportunity to create our own community councils.  She said that this is an important time on the clock of the world for (r)evolution, right here in Detroit and that we have what it takes to do it.

Grace and the people at the Boggs Center talk about the idea of ‘reimagining.’  They invite people to take their current situation and experiences and grow their own soul and the soul of their community not only with their heart and hands, but with their imagination.  What would be possible if we no longer saw ourselves as victims, but full participants our own lives in the context of all of creation?

This is our calling, no matter or age, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, we are called to take in our reality as it is, in the present moment, add in our experiences and the wisdom of our own and others, and re-imagine a future that is based on the values that most build a holistic community, from the inside out.  Then we are invited to live as if.  Live as if all that we believe in is true, shift and grow with new experiences and information, and invite others to do the same.

This is Grace Lee Boggs.

DAY Project Youth

Members of the Detroit Asian Youth Project and Detroit Summer – two groups that Lee Boggs helped start.

Noble Silence

About a month ago, I went to do a one-day Vipassana sit. Vipassana is a type of Buddhist meditation that was said to have been the meditation that led to Buddha’s enlightenment. Learning the mediation begins with a ten-day silent retreat where you sit for ten hours a day. We participate in Noble Silence and are not able to read, write, listen to music, nothing but you. The teacher, S.N. Goenka, talks during certain parts of the meditation in order to teach the students the technique.

The main focus of this type of meditation is to help us to see things are they are, no more or no less. To see things as they are through the experiences that we participate in through our minds, bodies, and souls. We begin to see that everything is always changing. We see that becoming attached to the moment that just occurred does not allow us to fully present to the moment we are in. I would recommend this meditation technique as one to help calm the mind so that you can really listen to the essence of God.

One action that really stood out to me from this sit, and became present to me again in this Advent season is the idea of ‘noble silence.’ Noble silence invites people to be present to life through an intention of being present only to the spirit within. What this means literally is that you are not speaking and not making any intentional contact with the others that are around you. Your soul focus during the time of Noble Silence is to maintain contact with your meditation, with the Spirit and pretend that others are not there.

At first I found this practice to be difficult because I am used to communicating with people through words, eye contact, and touch. However, as my mind became more calm and I learned to focus more and more on deep listening, I found that Noble Silence is an amazingly powerful form of communion that is actually a more impactful and stronger communication than direct words, touch, and eye contact.

When I was engaged in Noble Silence, my awareness of myself in the space I occupied was had much more strength than when I was talking or communicating with others in a direct way. Because I was much more aware of my space and my spirit, I became much more aware of the Spirit of those around me.

For example, during Vipassana, we shared in meals. During the meal, we continued in Noble Silence. We ate together, but did directly acknowledge each others’ presence. In this experience, I felt much more in communion with the others around me because I had to pay attention to their needs (moving out of someone’s way, or deciding who will go first in line, etc.) without directly talking or making eye contact.

I was also able to be much more present to the practice of eating. I was able to feel, taste, touch my food with much more reverence to the sacredness of the food and the miraculous experience of the body transforming the death of another living thing into energy and into life again.

During Advent Season, we have an Advent Retreat for the domestic volunteers for my work (www.capcorps.org). This year, we began the retreat in silence and we, as a community, entered into the silence of our words in order to be more fully in communion with the Spirit of the Creator within ourselves and each other. This experience drew me again into the experience of beautiful sound of silence.

As we continue to walk in to the spirit of Advent, I invite you to also enter more deeply into the communion that occurs most powerfully when we Be together in stillness. Blessings for you this Advent Season.

Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua

Currently I am in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.  We have three volunteers there and they are working at a Catholic school and a school for kids with disabilities.  The school for kids with disabilities is the only one in the town.  The town is right on the Caribbean Ocean and the place where I am staying overlooks the ocean. 

I am not sure how large the town is, but pretty much everything you would need is in walking distance.  There is an outdoor market that can be accessed in the day.  The town is very mutlicultural, but the predominate people and language is Miskto.  After Miskto, most people speak Spanish.

One of the interesting things about this town is that after World War II there was a pretty large migration of Chinese people to the town.  They came by boat and set up businesses.  Many people intermarried and I have met numerous people with the last name of Chow.  Some of the folks look more Chinese than others, but the langauge was not carried on.    I am told that after the Sandista revolution, many of the Chinese people left the town because they were afraid that they would no longer be able to operate their businesses.  The people still have remenants of the culture in some of the food and decorations, and of course the last names. 

Life here is much slower than in the U.S. and things happen, usually, within half a hour of when they are scheduled.  I have mostly been spending time with the volunteers and meeting with the directors of the schools. 

Overall it has been a good visit and I have been able to obtain a better understanding of the work here and of the volunteers.  Tomorrow I return to Managua, Nicaragua to meet with the volunteers there…

Thanks for journey with me!

right here, right now.

One of the things I have been working on is being present.  I have been living a lot both past and future, but not so good about being in the present.  The other challenge has been to be present in a way that believes that my life is real.  I think because I have been traveling so much (a week in Panama, two weeks in Granada, half a week in Puerto Cabezas, half a week somewhere in the south Atlantic area of Nicaragua, a few days here and there in Managua) and the familiarity and unfamiliarity of Nicaragua.  Or maybe it’s just my inability to be present…poco a poco.

Nicaragua feels like a familiar unfamiliar place.  The weather, the markets, and way of living, reminds of the a mixture of where my grandma lives and the rural areas of Taiwan.  Obviously, the culture, the people, the housing, etc. is completely different, but there is a bit of similarity that exisits.

My daily life, for the last couple of weeks: study 6:30-7:30, breakfast at 7:30, class at 8:00-12:00, lunch 12:00-1:00, teach math in spanish or play games with junior high/high schoolers from 1-3, study/do work for work from 3-6, teach English from 6-7:30, eat dinner 7ish-8, hang out with the family I am staying with for half an hour or an hour.  Go to sleep around 9:30-10.

I’ve been learning a lot, both about myself and in speaking Spanish.  Thankfully, it is starting to come back a little by little.  I need to learn alot more vocabulary and memorize the grammer, but it’s good to know that I did learn a bit in college.

Apart from school, this past weekend I ran around a lot.  Went out on Thursday night with one of the women in the homestay I am at, climbed volcano Monbacho, visited an old crater of a volcano that is now a lake called Laguna Apoyo, and visited briefly a small town called Masaya that is located next to an active volcano.

So as it is, lots happening and on the surface it all sounds amazing and it definitely is, but sometimes I am still lost.  The key to it all, I think is to be present.  To a degree I am here, but to a degree I am in the U.S. thinking about things that have happened, what it means to have a home, and how to be at home whereever I am.  Thinking about people at home and trying to balance myself.   So this is the story right now of my life.  Poco a poco.

Thanks for journeying with me.

¿Que es bueno?

About 6 years ago, a group of women and I started sending out ´what´s good emails.´ Often times we don´t focus enough on the good things and sometimes people have a hard time accepting the good in each other´s lives.  So I wanted a space where I can share joy.  Since we begin with maybe 5 or 6 women, the group has expanded with each woman coming in and bringing in her community and her good people.  The group now has about 40 people from liberal to conservative from Alaska to Kyrgyzstan from early 20s to mind 90s.  Below is the what´s good that I sent out today and wanted to share with you.  If you so choose, and would like to share you´re what´s goods on this post, I would love to receive them.  Thank you for bringing good into my life.

What´s Good…
Seeing the small things and working on being famous like a buttonhook-not because I did anything special, but because I never forgot what I could do                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     greeness of this place, the rain and the sun.  the banana trees, people of many hues and colors, walking
Learning that love does not mean that you have be in contact and just know love of the other without expecting nothing in return for self        Learning to love in a way that wants only home and joy for the other
Being in Panama and feeling at home in the heat and the must, feeling my skin relax
Seeing and hearing about friends accomplishing their dreams in ways that they never would have expected and feeling an overwhelmeing sense of  pride and joy
Watching and participating in other people´s conflicts move from confrontation to healing
Having someone ask how i am doing and remind me to take care of myself and then taking care of me
Knowing that change is possible and seeing a 73 year old friar change and shift.insipriing me to change and shift
Practicing vipassana again
Step by step bit by bit day by day
Singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God in Spanish
Communion, Eucharist, and community prayer
Figuring out the best way to rest                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Speaking in Spanish, however broken
Finding home inside myself

Today. You. God. Me. Today.

Chinese food y papas fritas

yesterday I had my first Chinese food with French fries. They had cafteria style tables and glass bottles of coke. The options for what went with the western style ‘ chinese’ food, as you would get at magic wok and the like, were: white rice, noodles, fried rice , and French fries. I like French fries and all the rest of the folks I was with ordered it. So I did too. Sadly I did not have a camera with me to show you, but basically, it is the same as any other Chinese food and you have it over French fries. … I wonder what other straches that people eat with Chinese food…

In Panama!

Mira!  Dos posts in dos dias!  amazing 🙂  I´m in Panama.  New discovery for today:  living tree fences!  There is a type of tree where you can cut the brances and plant them and then they will grow.  So then you have your fences in a straight line, made from branches/trees and then you can grow trees.

http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo/jdhermann/2/1205341320/imgp1583.jpg/tpod.html