Race & Religion Lake Temescal

Lake Temescal

Because of daylight savings time, my walk around the lake is quite a bit darker than usual. It’s Sunday, and a few family outings are ending up. I park a little irregularly, not quite exactly between the two lines because I back up in order to head out easily. I know it doesn’t matter how I am parked because no new cars are going to be coming in at that hour.

Three quarters around the lake, I notice coming towards me and then notice as they walk by me, two people dressed entirely in white. I don’t look closely, but I think they are dark skinned maybe Indian maybe African-American. That’s not the unusual thing. The unusual thing is that they are dressed in white. Part of the Lake Temescal in Oakland appeal, is all kinds of people are happily enjoying the park.

As I get further along the path by the lake, to where the field accommodates larger groups, I see one large group of many many people dressed in white. Not all of them, however. They still look Indian or African-American. There are some stragglers away from the group, people with baby carriages and babies in them and couples without carriages and pairs of friends. The majority of them however are centered in a circle around a sound similar to the hindu chanting I know from Amma’s. A place where people used to dress in white.

The sound I’m hearing is far away so I can’t know exactly what it is. I stop and ask a straggling couple what is going on. The young man doesn’t know exactly what to say so he says, “Church”. “Nice” I say and add “Blessings to you all” before walking on.

The woman with the guy who said ‘church’, disapproves of me. I can see her body grimace, and tighten up when I ask them if I am hearing Hindi. She is dressed in full length white with blue trim around the edge of her head covering. This resembles the clothing Mother Theresa nuns wore in the early 90s going to and from Saint Pauls, where they were housed, near 28th and Sanchez.

Mother Theresa, even occasionally went to that building. I had a boyfriend, who lived a block from there. He broke up with me, and started to become best friends with my housemate. My housemate would, of course go to his house. Once housemate saw Mother Theresa in route. I found that infinitely unfair. I thought I was the one who deserved to see Mother Theresa.

A decade or two before that, I spent a lot of time going to meditation classes and meditation retreats. My best friend was interested in no such thing. She was interested in marijuana and occasionally a lot of alcohol. One night after a bottle of rum or something she teleported to my apartment.

The next day she told me what I was wearing and everything that I was doing the night before. There’s no way she could’ve known that. Again, I thought it was unfair. I was going to the meditation retreats. I was the one trying to reach god. Somehow she was already there.

Funny how the mind works and how I went from the gathering to the blue trim of Mother Teresa to that night.

Walking back to my car, two young men from the group but not dressed in white, stop me on the dark path.

“You come here much?” One asks.

“Yes” I answer.

“Where is there a bathroom?” he asks.

I tell him.

“Thank you so much” The other says sincerely. Perhaps he’s the one in need.

“Of course!” I say.

I realize now, after having a bit more time with these two, that the group is Ethiopian. Not that it matters.

Still, I wonder why they are dressed in white. I could look that up no doubt but I’d rather leave it unknown.

Dharma talk


I tried to draw her as she was giving the talk on the importance of community. Referring to that story where Buddha himself says spiritual friends are the whole of your practice, not the half.

I am in a bad mood and say “pshaw!” Or something like that. I’m thinking in my wordless mind something from a gentler decade when exclamations like” Bullshit” we’re yet to be dreamed of.


I couldn’t quite get her face down but the statue looming over her was easy to get. Her head was drifting beneath the grand stone giant like a delicate moon made of barely illuminated paper.

There she was in her calm authority. Both of them, real and stone, representing this group consciousness which by definition allows no one to raise higher than the group.

I in my ppshaw say, who was with Buddha under the tree? Who was with Jesus in the desert? I’ll tell you who, no one.



Two sides of the Coin


Normally, I’m all for meditation. All over it in fact, every morning.

There are “mindfulness” programs in schools, especially inner city ones where all the kids are on the free lunch program and 70% of the kids when asked will answer yes to the question, ” Do you know anyone whose been shot and killed?”
Ditto, for this program in jails. This program is very helpful and successfull. Simply put, it brings in the pause ( the old “count to ten”) before you hit someone on the playground. It’s very helpful. In schools like the ones I teach at, this program is maybe less necessary.

After school art class had been over for a while and I was cleaning up. David was hanging out while I did this. I thought he was waiting for his parent to pick him up. He is lithe and lively and bounced around in his tiny six year old body talking to me as I gathered my tools and such.
Almost done, I checked my list and saw that David was supposed to go to the schools’ after care program so I mention perhaps he should get on down there.

His bouncy body slumps into a giant C as he plunks down in a chair.
“Oh no.”
“What’s wrong? Don’t you like after care? Why not?”
“UGH! They make us Meditate.”
(Feigning indignation I say) “What!? Meditate!? You mean you don’t get to run around with a ball or something? What do they make you do, listen to a bell?” (Knowing they do this)
“Meditation is, well, (groan) it’s hard to explain.”

Finger Prints

In Oakland,to teach after school classes you need to be finger printed. The law is there to protect kids from sex offenders. From kids who might find themselves alone with such a teacher. Even though fingerprints don’t change, they take prints every year in case your criminal record has changed. Irregardless of my moral behavior, I teach a chaotic class of twenty kids in a public area of the school.

This is expensive at $100. a year. The woman in charge of this is inaptly named Angelica. She emails me and gives me a half hour window on a certain day to come down to an unpleasant neighborhood and put my hands on the screen to be recorded. I email back and tell her that I can not come then and ask if I can (please) have this done at a convenient time at my usual place.

I receive no answer for weeks, after which she emails me again with another half hour slot I can’t make. She signs her email “waiting for your response”. I email back as previously. Again, I recieve no response for weeks. When I call I get a swift short recording in almost broken english.

After a month of teaching I start to feel like I really do have to get this yearly request fulfilled as I am supposedly breaking the law, although I’m feeling that I’d have a case to argue otherwise.

I go to my usual place run by a chinese couple. They also speak broken english. The wife is her usual unfriendly self and the husband is warmer and helpful.

There are three people before me in line for this process. Their IDs are mexican passports and they speak no english at all. I translate for them. The woman in charge of this group is beautiful and young; dressed in dark pinks with thick hair easily flopped atop her head. The young man has on one of the best beaded Guadalupe hats I’ve ever seen. I compliment him on it. Initially, I am unsure whether he is her mate or her son but the way she then brushes his hair (also thick) away from his face, tells me that he is her son. The other one is maybe her cousin.

They clean one of the schools. She is carefully handing over three hundred dollars! in cash. The most important part of what she wants to know, and what I am translating, is about the line with the 6 digit government number which will get her a partial reimbursement for this process. It’s only $25 but she is adamant about getting it.

When it is my turn, the wife, in her slightly sour self,  asks me “So, you’re going to be a teacher?”  I say, “I already am a teacher” in a tired way because I am sick of being in a room without windows. “What do you teach?”, she counters dryly.  When I say “ceramics”  she lights up like a bulb. “Really?!  Can you teach me?  Can I make this?”,  she says as she touches a four inch light green ceramic pot housing a small fake tree. “Yes”, and for a few minutes we talk ceramics and it is the first time I have seen her look alive in all the years I’ve been there.

Then I go with him into the closet like area with the machine. I am amazed (again) at the comfortable and easy way he takes each finger and rolls it around on the screen. I think of how many hands he has held and how he does it with nothing extra and it is somehow actually enjoyable.

When I get home, I scan and send the fingerprints and form to Angelica.

Five minutes later I get three emails from her. The first two are auto-response explanations about how is she out of the office until some unforseen time. The third one is actually from her. She says that under no circumstamnces whatsoever will they accept fingerprints done anywhere else but the Oakland Unified School District office and that she is there from 8 to 5 every day and that I need to come down there, pay again, and have them done again.

She is waiting for my response.

She won’t get one.

What’s gone

I look at the framed photograph on the window sill of my mother with my daughter and all of a sudden my mind jumps to “she’s gone” and for a moment I wonder “who?”

The sure side comes in and says “Mom died”  but somehow my daughter in the picture as a three year old is gone as well. An almost seventeen year old is not a three year old.

Still part of the three year old remains, just as part of my mother remains.

Here and not here. Like most of existence; here and not here. Partly somewhere else but where?

In Another’s shoes

I notice a tourist couple, with their map, disagreeing sort of, but not quite enough to be decisive. Then one makes a move away down the street toward the tunnel and the other begins to hasten after.
The tunnel is dingy and dark while (on their map) one street over is the more exciting and unusual. Who would willingly walk through that tunnel? is what I’m thinking. In all the years I’ve lived here… is what I’m thinking.

So I try to help. I say, “Do you need help?” thinking I will now tell them how to walk through the grand gate guarded by dragons, one block over (on their map).

They ignore me. They do not understand english and are speaking a language I don’t understand but am guessing is eastern european by the way they look.

At first I am irritated and mumble to myself, “They don’t think they need help but they do.”

Then I see that they need to walk through the tunnel and I need to return to my own business.

Waking Up

After watching the digital clock for a while, she decides on getting up at four in the morning rather than lying in the darkness any longer. It’s the darkness in her mind keeping her up anyway. Better to turn on the lights.

She almost falls asleep on the train going to her morning class and almost asleep again coming home. So when she gets home, she lies down and goes to sleep.

She wakes up in the dark. This is rain dark, not night dark. Wondering why hunger follows afternoon naps, she opens the frig to find it mostly empty.

After the cashier has rung up the grocery cart with two hundred dollars worth of selected items, she realizes her wallet is on the kitchen table at home. She explains. She goes home. She comes back.

The cashier is kind, and he says, “No worries, You are not alone”, meaning this happens all the time.

Confused at the payment keypad between “CLEAR” and “ACCEPT”, she decides on “ACCEPT” because it’s green and likes that he has told her she is not alone.

Outside, near the entrance to the grocery store, someone has permanently written in once wet cement “The Dali Lama” under an also permanent sentence.

The sentence says, “Find hope in the darkness and focus on the light”.

Tonglen Practice

3/4 million (750,000) people can soon die of starvation in Somalia. There is a drought in Africa which has left the people without food.

there is food being given but

the pirate type controlling the country won’t let aid in

the big boats can’t get to the ports
even if they could, on shore
it is beyond food
some now need care before they can eat.
These Somalian people.
What now to do with the awareness of them and it’s effect on me
The tonglen buddhist practice is the only real thing
that helps.

Breathing in and breathing out with
toward another with well-wishing


To feel better…

Because of you I got on my bike later today. I rode and I felt better in the saturated light of dinnertime September. The golden yellow of uncut dried grass made me pretend for a moment that I was in southern California where, if I took a left, I’d go into the desert and drive and drive, roadkill cafes and all, until I came to a creek amidst the boulders in somewhere, say Arizona, and unroll my bag and go to sleep under zillions of stars waking up the next morning not reading email.

Instead I contented myself with curving my bike  into Temescal Lake Park where a lone mother and child were ending the day slowly.

It was enough just to get on my bike.
Just enough because you suggested the obvious thing I’d been missing.
To feel better you have to do things that make you feel better.