Thursday, February 21, 2013


from "womyn, rituals, and family therapy" by joan laird & ann hartman

"ritual can be mobilized as a powerful instrument in therapy."

"while words may accompany ritual, ritual takes us beyond language and beyond our conscious, cognitive categories, because of its powerful use of myth, metaphor, and symbol... ritual implies action.  it is performed, enacted, reflecting the past and shaping the future at one and the same time."

"rituals... include repetition, performance, special behavior of stylization, order, evocative presentational style, and a collective dimension (that is, a dimension charged with a social message, even if it the self sending a message to self).  elements of chaos and spontaneity may appear at particular times and places."

"most of the transitions in the womyn's life cycle are organized around changes in the lives of her husband, children, or parents.  accompanying ritual communication reinforces her role as caretaker and nurturer, but may say little about the meaning of her life... no widely sanctioned rituals exist to mark the passage from home to public life for womyn for whom marriage is not the major leaving home marker."

"... womyn tend to structure their lives (and, we would add, their rituals) around a range of contingencies that depend on others.  these contigencies include: 'the need to fit the expectancies of an unknown spouse, the uncertainty about whether she will marry, and the necessity to provide a backup education & training 'just in case' she does not, the possibility of childlessness, with the concomitant need to develop alternative activities, the disruption of routine when the children leave home, with the concomitant need to develop other options, and the possibility of divorce or widowhood...'"

"social rituals don't just express our realities, they help create them."

"from marriage on, many of the central rites of passage in which womyn participate, if she is a mother, are related to the movement through the life cycle of her children: their birthdays, graduations, and marriages.  later she may become the central caretaker for her parents, as they age and die.  it is not clear, if transition rituals are so focused on the needs of others, how the changes, separations, and redefinitions a womyn faces are mastered or incorporated.  finally, if a womyn does not follow the traditional life course and is unconnected to husband or children, her life may lack recognizable markers, leaving her forever on the margins or in what turner might define as a 'liminal' phase."

"it is, perhaps, therapy's ritual character that provides it with so much power."

"therapists can help families devise rituals that express the family's beliefs and values and help their female members move through the life cycle according to those meanings... other womyn may need help in freeing themselves from rigid and demeaning daily ritual patterns, in resolving old, unfinished issues, or in completing the mourning of earlier losses."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

looking inward

from an unentangled knowing by upasika kee nanayon (translated by thanissaro bhikkhu)

"anyone who has to fight to have his/her ideas accepted inevitably loses touch with the qualities of dispassion, self-effacement, unentanglement with others, contentment with little, and seclusion - qualities the buddha set forth as the litmus test for gauging whether or not a proposed course of action, and the person proposing it, were in accordance with the dhamma." -thanissaro bhikkhu

to begin with, know that the body is composed of various physical properties, the major ones being the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind; the minor ones being the aspects that adhere to the major ones: things like color, smell, shape, etc.  these properties are unstable (inconstant), stressful, and unclean.  if you look into them deeply, you will see that there's no substance to them at all.  they are simply impersonal conditions, with nothing worth calling 'me' or 'mine'.  when you can clearly perceive the body in these terms, you will be able to let go of any clinging or attachment to it as an entity, your self, someone else, this or that.

the second step is to deal with mental phenomena (feelings, perceptions, thought-fabrications, and consciousness).  focus on keeping track of the truth that these are characterized by arising, persisting, and then disbanding.  in other words, their nature is to arise and disband, arise and disband, repeatedly.

start out by brushing aside all external concerns and turn to look inside at your own mind until you can know in what ways it's clear or murky, calm or unsettled... until you've trained the mind to stay firmly in a state of normalcy (neutrality).

when you focus on the breath, using the breath as a leash to tie the mind in place so that it doesn't go wandering off, you have to use your endurance.  you have to endure pain...  if there's pleasure, don't get enthralled with it... if there's a lot of pain, you first have to endure it and then relax your attachments.  don't think of the pain as being your pain.  let it be the pain of the body, the pain of nature.

if you can maintain equanimity in the face of pleasure or pain, it can make the mind peaceful - peaceful even though the pain is still pain.  the mind keeps knowing, enduring the pain so as to let it go... this is a really important skill to develop, because it will make craving, defilement, and attachment grow weaker and weaker... as for the pleasure that comes from the practice, it's a cool pleasure that lets go of everything, really free from any sense of me or mine.

why is it that the mind can stay engaged with the defilements all day long and yet go for entire days without knowing how heavy or subtle the breath is at all?

you look, you know, right there at the mind and can tell whether or not it's empty and still.  once you see that it is, then you investigate to see how it's empty, how it's still.  it's not the case that once it's empty, that's the end of the matter; once it's still, that's the end of the matter.  that's not the case at all.  you have to keep watch of things, you have to investigate at all times.  only then will you see the changing- the arising and disbanding- occurring in that emptiness, that stillness, that state of normalcy.

you were born to study pain and the causes of pain, and to follow the practice that frees you from pain. . . if we contemplate it till we know all its details, we can then make it our sport: seeing that the pain is the pain of natural conditions and not our pain.  this is something we have to research so as to get to the details: that it's not our pain, it's the pain of the aggregates [form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness].  knowing in this way means that we can separate out the properties - the properties of matter and those of the mind- to see how they interact with one another, how they change.  it's something really fascinating... watching pain is a way of building up lots of mindfulness and discernment.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

a longtime favorite

by rumi

your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.

expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
if it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

your deepest presence is in every small contracting
and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

*translated by coleman barks

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


from the presentation of self in everyday life by erving goffman

"when an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them.  they are asked to believe that the characters they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be.  in line with this, there is the popular view that the individual offers his performance and puts on his show 'for the benefit of other people.'"

"when the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term 'sincere' for individuals who believe in the impression fostered by their own performance.  it should be understood that the cynic, with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasure from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously."

"in so far as this mask represents the conception we have formed of ourselves - the role we are striving to live up to - this mask is our truer self, the self we would like to be."

"we find that the individual may attempt to induce the audience to judge him and the situation in a particular way, and he may seek this judgment as an ultimate end in itself, and yet he may not completely believe that he deserves the valuation of self which he asks for or that the impression of reality which he fosters is valid."

"the expressiveness of the individual (and therefore his capacity to give impressions) appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off.  the first involves verbal symbols or their substitutes which he uses admittedly and solely to convey the information that he and the others are known to attach to these symbols.  this is communication in the traditional and narrow sense.  the second involves a wide range of action that others can treat as symptomatic of the actor, the expectation being that the action was performed for reasons other than the information conveyed in this way. . . the individual does of course intentionally convey misinformation by means of both of these types of communication, the first involving deceit, the second feigning."

"it is also highly important for us to realize that we do not as a matter of fact lead our lives, make our decisions, and reach our goals in everyday life either statistically or scientifically.  we live by inference.  i am, let us say, your guest.  you do not know, you cannot determine scientifically, that i will not steal your money or your spoons.  but inferentially i will not, and inferentially you have me as a guest." -william i. thomas

"regardless of the particular objective which the individual has in mind and of his motive for having this objective, it will be in his interests to control the conduct of others, especially their responsive treatment of him."

"tom burns. . .presents the argument that in all interaction a basic underlying theme is the desire of each participant to guide and control the responses made by the others present.  a similar argument has been advanced by jay haley. . . but in regard to a special kind of control, that having to do with defining the nature of the relationship of those involved in the interaction."

"now given the fact that others are likely to check up on the more controllable aspects of behavior by means of the less controllable, one can expect that sometimes the individual will try to exploit this very possibility, guiding the impression he makes through behavior felt to be reliably informing. . . this kind of control upon the part of the individual reinstates the symmetry of the communication process, and sets the stage for a kind of information game - a potentially infinite cycle of concealment, discovery, false revelation, and rediscovery.  it should be added that since the others are likely to be relatively unsuspicious of the presumably unguided aspect of the individual's conduct, he can gain much by controlling it."

"the others, however passive their role may seem to be, will themselves effectively project a definition of the situation by virtue of their response to the individual"

"ordinarily the definitions of the situation projected by the several different participants are sufficiently attuned to one another so that open contradiction will not occur. . . each participant is expected to suppress his immediate heartfelt feelings, conveying a view of the situation which he feels the others will be able to find at least temporarily acceptable.  the maintenance of this surface of agreement, this veneer of consensus, is facilitated by each participant concealing his own wants behind statements which assert values to which everyone present feels obliged to give lip service."

"together the participants contribute to a single over-all definition of the situation which involves not so much a real agreement as to what exists but rather a real agreement as to whose claims concerning what issues will be temporarily honored.  real agreement will also exist concerning the desirability of avoiding an open conflict of definitions of the situation."

"we can appreciate the crucial importance of the information that the individual initially posseses or acquires concerning his fellow participants, for it is on the basis of this initial information that the individual starts to define the situation and starts to build up lines of responsive action.  the individual's initial projection commits him to what he is proposing to be and requires him to drop all pretenses of being other things."

"the work adjustment of those in service occupations will often hinge upon a capacity to seize and hold the initiative in the service relation, a capacity that will require subtle aggressiveness on the part of the server when he is of lower socio-economic status than his client."

"given the fact that the individual effectively projects a definition of the situation when he enters the presence of others, we can assume that events may occur within the interaction which contradict, discredit, or otherwise throw doubt upon this projection.  when these disruptive events occur, the interaction itself may come to a confused and embarrassed halt.  some of the assumptions upon which the responses of the participants had been predicated become untenable, and the participants find themselves lodged in an interaction for which the situation has been wrongly defined and is now no longer defined.  at such moments the individual whose presentation has been discredited may feel ashamed while the others present may feel hostile, and all the participants may come to feel ill at ease, nonplussed, out of countenance, embarrassed, experiencing the kind of anomy that is generated when the minute social system of face-to-face interaction breaks down."

"any projected definition of the situation also has a distinctive moral character. . . society is organized on the principle that any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way.  connected with this principle is a second, namely that an individual who implicitly or explicitly signifies that he has certain social characteristics ought in fact to be what he claims he is.  in consequence, when an individual projects a definition of the situation and thereby makes an implicit or explicit claim to be a person of a particular kind, he automatically exerts a moral demand upon the others, obliging them to value and treat him in the manner that persons of his kind have a right to expect.  he also implicitly forgoes all claims to be things he does not appear to be and hence forgoes the treatment that would be appropriate for such individuals.  the others find, then, that the individual has informed them as to what is and as to what they ought to see as the 'is'."

"one cannot judge the importance of definitional disruptions by the frequency with which they occur, for apparently they would occur more frequently were not constant precautions taken.  we find that preventive practices are constantly employed to avoid these embarrassments and that corrective practices are constantly employed to compensate for discrediting occurrences that have not been successfully avoided.  when the individual employs these strategies and tactics to protect his own projections, we may refer to them as 'defensive practices'; when a participant employs them to save the definition of the situation projected by another, we speak of 'protective practices' or 'tact'.  together, defensive and protective practices comprise the techniques employed to safeguard the impression fostered by an individual during his presence before others."

"in addition to the fact that precautions are taken to prevent disruption of projected definitions, we may also note that an intense interest in these disruptions comes to play a significant role in the social life of the group... there seems to be no grouping which does not have a ready supply of these games, reveries, and cautionary tales, to be used as a source of humor, a catharsis for anxieties, and a sanction for inducing individuals to be modest in their claims and reasonable in their projected expectations."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the rooms. (part one)

the rooms. (part one)

took it apart, it had nothing to
lose. the pile filled with punctuation,
hinges, hunger.

screwdriver in hand
gray mass growing
brains flex & pipe up

give me the tools?

who is a house!
where is the room:
(what hallway follows)

i was hung up, a coat
hooked to a swinging door
past the burning

some songs are made of small fires
tumbling down tubes and tunnels
swallowed with a caress on a throat

some songs are deluges
some extinguish
some are off key

all songs are safety measures


Friday, February 8, 2013

oh, judith butler

from gender trouble

"the political assumption that there must be a universal basis for feminism, one which must be found in an identity assumed to exist cross-culturally, often accompanies the notion that the oppression of womyn has some singular form discernible in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination.  that form of feminist theorizing has come under criticism for its efforts to colonize and appropriate non-western cultures to support highly western notions of oppression, but because they tend as well to construct a 'third world' or even an 'orient' in which gender oppression in subtly explained as symptomatic of an essential, non-western barbarism.  the urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism's own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated the shortcut to a categorial or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce womyn's common subjugated experience."

"are the specificity and integrity of womyn's cultural or linguistic practices always specified against and, hence, within the terms of some more dominant cultural formation? ... the masculine/feminine binary constitutes not only the exclusive framework in which that specificity can be recognized, but in every other way the 'specificity' of the feminine is once again fully decontextualized and separated off analytically and politically from the constitution of class, race, ethnicity, and other axes of power relations that both constitute 'identity' and make the singular notion of identity a misnomer."

"contemporary feminist debates over the meanings of gender lead time and again to a certain sense of trouble, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism.  perhaps trouble need not carry such a negative valence.  to make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble.  the rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble.  hence, i concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.  as time went by, further ambiguities arrived on the critical scene.  i noted that trouble sometimes euphemized some fundamentally mysterious problem usually related to the alleged mystery of all things feminine.  i read beauvoir who explained that to be a womyn within the terms of a masculinist culture is to be a source of mystery and unknowability for men, and this seemed confirmed somehow when i read sartre for whom all desire, problematically presumed as heterosexual and masculine, was defined as trouble.  for that masculine subject of desire, trouble became a scandal with the sudden intrusion, the unanticipated agency, of a female 'object' who inexplicably returns the glance, reverses the gaze, and contests the place and authority of the masculine position.  the radical dependency of the masculine subject on the female 'other' suddenly exposes his autonomy as illusory.  that particular dialectical reversal of power, however, couldn't quite hold my attention- although others surely did.  power seemed to be more than an exchange between subjects or a relation of constant inversion between subject and an other; indeed, power appeared to operate in the production of that very binary frame for thinking about gender."

"laughter in the face of serious categories is indispensable for feminism."

"her/his performance [divine in the john waters' film female trouble] destabilizes the very distinctions between the natural and artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about gender almost always operates."

"the mobilization of identity categories for the purposes of politicization always remain threatened by the prospect of identity becoming an instrument of the power one opposes.  that is no reason not to use, and be used by, identity.  there is no political position purified of power, and perhaps that impurity is what produces agency as the potential interruption and reversal of regulatory regimes."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

trying to name what doesn't change

by naomi shihab nye
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change   
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery   
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train   
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.   
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.   
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.   
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound   
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.