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Friday, September 28, 2012

Could you forgive someone who killed your only son?

By Claudia Ricci

Seventeen years ago, investment banker Azim Khamisa was 46 years old and leading a pretty ordinary life. He had a good career, two children, and he enjoyed the sunny climate living in beautiful La Jolla, California.

That all changed on a night in 1995 when his only son, Tariq, 20, met with disaster as he attempted to deliver a pizza as part of his job.

A 14-year old thug, part of a gang out looking for trouble, shot and killed Tariq as he sat in his car.

Khamisa fell into such an intense and agonizing despair that at one point, he was suicidal.

But Khamisa didn't die. In fact, he found himself after much soul-searching, doing something that most people would consider impossible. He reached out to the family of the young shooter, who was tried and convicted as an adult. Khamisa offered forgiveness and compassion to the family grieving on the other side.

"I talked to the boy's grandfather, who was his guardian, and I said, 'we've both lost our sons, my son to murder, and yours to prison.'"

Khamisa decided to set up a foundation in his son's name -- the Tariq Khamisa Foundation -- and he went on to dedicate his life's work to fostering forgiveness. He has since spoken before millions of people internationally and closer to home, in public and corporate workshops, and in video and audio recordings. He also has published four books exploring the way in which his heart-wrenching tragedy transformed him and led to his forgiveness work.

He realizes that many people will be puzzled by his decision to forgive his son's shooter (whose name is Tony.) "Forgiveness is not well understood in our culture," Khamisa says. "But I have a better life because I forgived. I came to realize that resentment is very corrosive. If you're out there carrying resentment, you're not going to be living at 100 percent of your capacity."

Khamisa also was able to see that Tony faced a life of agony and pain because of his crime.  There were "victims at both ends of the gun," Khamisa says. "Tony has to live the rest of his life knowing he killed an innocent, unarmed kid. There's no escaping his wrongdoing. He still gets nightmares over the murder."

Key to Khamisa's transformation was his lifelong practice of meditation, and his ability to see that the only way he would ever have peace in his life is if he let go of the hatred and resentment he was initially harboring toward Tony.  Today, Khamisa often appears on stage with Tony's grandfather; they speak to school groups talking about the pointless tragedies of gang violence, and in so doing, the two men are promoting peace.

To learn more about Azim and his amazing work, visit his website, www.azimkhamisa.com, where you can download his guided mediations on forgiveness.

I met Azim last week at an international conference in beautiful Assisi, Italy. The conference of more than 500 people was devoted to love and forgiveness. Sponsored by a Michigan-based foundation called the Fetzer Institute, the conference showcased dozens of examples of programs and projects that are devoted to promoting love and forgiveness. The belief is that love and forgiveness radically transform our consciousness and break open our hearts, helping us to find deep levels of peace. According to Fetzer's mission statement:

"Love is the most powerful force in the world. Only love can make us whole and make us one. Only love can heal our hearts, our relationships, our communities, and our world. In the face of conflict and injustice, forgiveness is an essential expression of love. In asking for and granting forgiveness, we free ourselves from guilt and grievance for a life of love and mutual support. Together, love and forgiveness light the path to a world in which all persons can live in peace and fulfillment, free from want, violence, and fear. Around the world, millions are awakening to the transformative power of love and forgiveness and are committing themselves to the great common work of building a global community. The purpose of the Fetzer Institute is to reveal, serve, and inspire this great awakening."

The conference in Assisi was an opportunity for leaders in a multitude of fields to come together to share concrete examples of how love and forgiveness are transforming the world. Many of the projects have been funded by Fetzer.

To learn more about the Fetzer Institute and the Global Gathering in Assisi, visit the Fetzer website at www.Fetzer.org.






Thursday, September 27, 2012

This Vigil Deserves Your Support!!

By David Seth Michaels


Martin Baumgold
In the wake of 9/11, on Saturday, September 22, 2001, eleven years ago last week, my friend Martin Baumgold decided to stand at the Seventh Street Park in Hudson, New York to demonstrate for peace. The world needed to find peace, and he saw that. He’s been at it since. Every week. Every Saturday. People have come to stand with him, and they have gone away. New ones have come and they too have gone away. Usually, there are 3 or 4 or even 5 people standing at the South side of the Seventh Park on Warren Street. Martin is undeterred, he stands anyway. He’s not the leader of a movement; he just hopes that others will stand with him. But even if they don’t, obviously he’s in it for the long haul.

The message is incredibly simple (these are my words, not anyone else’s): make peace, be peace, live in peace. And for eleven years, Martin has showed up virtually every Saturday at 2 pm to stand up for peace until 4 pm. The time is a measure of his commitment.

He’s humble about it. You have to be when you spend more than 500 Saturday afternoons in all kinds of weather standing on a corner with a sign or two. You have to be humble when peace has not broken out in the world. You have to be humble when the occasional car gives you the finger. Or honks approval. But when most people are utterly apathetic about your standing there. You have time to ask whether it makes any difference to be standing there. You have to be humble when others don’t come out in great masses to clamor for peace. And when you seem to be invisible to most people.

A friend of Martin’s realized that today was going to be the eleventh anniversary of the vigil. He put up an invitation on Facebook to an event and invited everyone he could think of. As Saturday came closer, even Martin was taken in. He got a map of the Seventh Street Park, calculated its circumference, and determined that if there were 206 people, they could all hold hands and circle the park. Wouldn’t that be spectacular? Indeed, it would be. It would be monumental.

Earlier in the week the Rotary Club had planted a peace poll in the Seventh Street Park and had a ceremony asking for peace, asking that peace prevail on earth. I am not aware that any of the many people who attended that organized ceremony showed up today to stand with Martin. But the existence of the peace poll right near where Martin stands feels like his vigil has borne fruit.

Today’s demonstration was about 175 people short of the “goal.” No matter. It started to sprinkle. No matter. People stood for peace, they talked with each other, and then they went home. And the vigil will continue. Really it will.

Which brings me to this. This kind of unorganized, leaderless ceremony and demonstration for peace deserves widespread support. So I am directly asking you for it. If I didn’t ask, you wouldn’t know that support was desired.
What kind of support? It’s really simple:

If you’re near Hudson, Columbia County, New York on a Saturday between 2 and 4 pm, please come to the Seventh Street Park and stand with the vigil for peace.
If you’re elsewhere in the world, please let your friends, family, colleagues, acquaintance know about this vigil and that it would be wonderful if they would just drop in some Saturday afternoon. Please forward this and re-post it widely.
That’s it. This is the Internet. My hope is that one Saturday in the not to far distant future, there will actually be 206 people in the Seventh Street Park in Hudson, New York, and that they will be able to hold hands and circle the entire park. That would be a beautiful gesture. It would say to Martin and all of those who stand with him, you are not alone, we agree that peace is important, let there be peace. Make peace, be peace, live in peace.

David Seth Michaels, a lawyer in Columbia County, New York, keeps a blog called Dream Antilles, where this piece appeared first.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sharon Salzberg Brings Meditation Workshops to Albany



By Heather Haskins
In her book Real HappinessSharon Salzberg tells a fantastic story to illustrate the concept of “globalizing,” that thing we all do from time to time (some of us more frequently and more intensely than others) where we tell ourselves (and anyone else who will listen) dramatic stories about how irreparably doomed and out-of-control our lives are.  Salzberg writes:
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience.  Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.  One of my favorite examples of this kind of globalizing came from a student who’d had an intensely stressful day.  When she went to the gym later and was changing in the locker room, she tore a hole in her pantyhose.  Frustrated, she said to a stranger standing nearby, “I need a new life!”
“No you don’t,” the other woman replied.  “You need a new pair of pantyhose.”
I love this story, because while the concept of globalizing is a hard one for me to grasp at times – probably because I am usually indulging in it myself – examples like this make me laugh as I recall similar experiences where I blew a seemingly minor event or occurrence into an all out catastrophe.
Stuck in traffic?  I need to move!  I can’t drive in this town anymore.
Conflict at work?  I have to quit.
Argument with a friend?  I am all alone in this world.  I have no one!
Just look at that.  And the exclamation points aren’t there for effect, either. They are there in an attempt to accurately reflect the level of urgency and emotional distress that usually accompany these moments – moments I believe to be true while I am living in them.
Through meditation, I am learning a little something about mindfulness, which is really not as complicated as it sounds, even though it is difficult to achieve, I think.  Because mindfulness is, by its very nature, a process. And I, in my perpetual rush-and-hurry-and-multitask-my-life-away state, often skip over as many steps as possible to get to the end result of things.  After all, who has time to stop and be mindful?
Well, we all do.  If we make time.
I am not saying that responsibilities and demands and schedules aren’t real, constant stressors in our lives.  But what better reason do we need to write ourselves into our own day planner once in awhile?  I use this as my example because that is precisely what I have started doing.  Since I store all my appointments and meetings and various schedules in my cellphone calendar, every few days I come across a half hour appointment – sometimes an hour, if I am feeling really self-loving. Or in desperate need of grounding and focus – labelled, simply “HH.”  Not a very cleverly-veiled code or anything, it serves as a gentle but necessary reminder that I need to take some time for myself.  Time that doesn’t include work or family or working out or writing or dealing with my dog or … and this is the biggie … stressing myself out.  As in — globalizing the hell out of minor occurrences that I so often turn into catastrophes.
So I meditate. And I have started doing light yoga again.  I go for walks. Sometimes short ones. Sometimes with my dog and sometimes alone.  I have even started playing my piano again.  Sometimes I even put on a half-hour comedy that I love (think Roseanne or The Office. And I make no apologies for how wonderfully funny I find the characters and the situations in both of these shows.)  In essence, I lighten up.  But only if I schedule it.  Because not only do I never miss an appointment, I always arrive everywhere early. Which is really nice when it buys me ten extra minutes with myself . To laugh. Or breathe more deeply.  To look at a minor blip in my day and realize it isn’t actually the end of the world.  Or even of my world. It is a blip.  And I need not react to it at all.  I can simply let it be and move on.  Or, I can go out and buy a new pair of pantyhose and give my life a break altogether.
Does this concept of “globalizing” sound familiar?  Do you ever do it to yourself?  If so, do you do it often, or only under certain circumstances and around certain people?  And how do you lighten up?  Are you more preventive, with a regularly scheduled practice, or are you more likely to intervene after crisis hits and the stakes seem higher? (Or at least your blood pressure seems higher?)
I highly recommend Real Happiness if you haven’t read it – and I recommend reading it again if you have already read it once.  In fact, what a great way to spend some scheduled time with yourself – reading a chapter, a page, a paragraph.  Whatever you can manage.  After all, you are the best use of your own time.


Heather Haskins is currently completing her Master’s of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.  Primarily a nonfiction writer, Heather is completing her first full length memoir while continuing to produce shorter personal essays, humor writing, and flash fiction. Her blog: “Lighten Up” is about peeking at life through a new lens and examining the lighter side of things – world events, family and friends, job stress, pet ownership – for relief from the challenges that weigh us down. This post appeared in the Times Union's Holistic Health blog, produced and moderated by Judith England. Judi reminds us that Sharon Salzberg returns to Albany at the end of September: 
Sharon Salzberg will be visiting Albany September 28th and 29th for a Dharma Talk and Full-Day of Practice.  All events will be held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to study with a master teacher, be with kindred spirits, and recharge your life-skill batteries. When she visited last year about 300 people shared in the experience! For information and to register: Register-at-organizingmindfulness.org or 518-545-1735.  Check our the Organizing Mindfulness (OM) Facebook page for more information.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rebuilding the Middle Class -- We Need Jobs, Good Jobs!!


By Richard Kirsch

The latest Census data prove that we need to start rebuilding the American middle class, and a new report shows how it can be done.

Yesterday the U.S. Census Bureau reported that family income in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level in 16 years. The key thing in this news is that the drop is not just over the last three years, during the Great Recession. The squeeze on the middle class isn’t new, it wasn’t caused by the recession, and it won’t be fixed as we come out of the recession. If we’re going to rebuild the middle class, we need an agenda aimed at making work pay in the 21st century. 
  
That’s why I worked with more than 20 groups who understand the daily struggles of working families on a new report we’re releasing today, 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century. The report is a road map for addressing the truth that we don’t just have a jobs problem; we have a good jobs problem.

Before we get to what we do about it, we need to confront the fact that even though the proportion of Americans with a college education doubled in the past three decades, the share of working people with a decent job dropped. Six out of ten (58 percent) jobs now emerging from the recession are low-wage. On top of that, the jobs projected to have the most openings between now and 2020 are mostly low-wage and require no more than a high school education. So there is no reason to think things will get better unless we act.

One set of solutions proposed in 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class is to tackle the lack of support and protections for low-wage workers. A first step is to restore the minimum wage, which buys 30 percent less now than it did 40 years ago. The minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour, the same as it was in 1991. One in five workers would get a pay raise if the minimum wage were increased. That includes workers who get paid just above today’s minimum wage, who would also benefit as the legal floor got raised.

Remarkably, four out of ten private sector jobs – including the great majority of low-wage jobs – do not give employees any paid time off if they are sick or need to care for an ill family member. In response, Connecticut and several cities have passed paid sick days ordinances. The federal government and states and localities should update basic labor standards to include this essential benefit to working families.

The report recommends tough enforcement, with meaningful penalties, of laws that unscrupulous employers now routinely flout. Many employers of low-wage workers routinely steal wages by not paying the minimum wage, not paying for overtime, or simply not paying workers at all. Other employers misclassify workers as “independent contractors” in order to get out of paying payroll taxes or benefits and hire “permatemps.” Worker safety and health is another area where measly penalties, weak enforcement, and widespread retaliation against workers who dare to speak up allow employers to keep low-wage workers in hazardous work conditions every day. 
It will take systemic solutions to address the broader problem of stagnant wages. 

A crucial step is to uphold the freedom of workers to organize a union by modernizing the National Labor Relations Act and stopping employers from harassing organizing efforts with virtual impunity. Nothing in our nation’s history has done more to bring workers decent pay, benefits, and dignity at work than organized labor. The factory workers of the mid-20th Century didn’t have a college education; they organized unions. The low-wage workers of the 21st Century – the housekeepers and janitors and home health aids and retail clerks – will only be able to get decent wages and become part of the middle class when they are able to effectively organize to bargain collectively.

Other proposals in the 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class report would create new social insurance protections for the 21st Century, just as Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid were key to fighting poverty and building the middle class in the last century. The nation took one major step in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which in 2014 will enable working families to get affordable health coverage even if they don’t get it on the job.

The report proposes two other steps to provide families more security in their work and in their retirement. 

Though today’s norm is for all the adults in a family to be in the workforce, only one in ten workers (12 percent) has paid family leave through work to care for a new child or a sick family member. A solution is to establish a national family and medical leave insurance program, similar to Social Security and successful programs in California and New Jersey, for workers to draw on when they are out on family leave.

To address the fact that pensions have been replaced by thread-bare 401Ks over the past 30 years, the report recommends establishing new pooled and professionally managed retirement plans for those who rely solely on Social Security and 401Ks, which would pay a defined amount – a pension – each month.

In addition to these and other steps, 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class recognizes that a foundation of improving work is full employment. That is why we need to stop laying off public workers and outsourcing jobs overseas.  It's also why we should create millions of jobs now by investing in infrastructure and a green economy.

Rebuilding the middle class is about more than assuring that every working American can support his or her family with dignity and security. It’s about powering the economy forward in the 21st Century. The middle class is the engine of our economy, an engine that can only be rebuilt by making today’s jobs good and tomorrow’s jobs better.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Good Grape Deserves Another!!

After Sunday's post -- which displayed the amazing grapes that my husband and I picked and turned into delicious juice this past weekend -- I got an email from my sister-in-law Fawn Walker.

Fawn got inspired to make juice from the grapes that are growing at her house in New London, Connecticut.

We had to share this wonderful photo she sent of the fruit growing on the arbor in her and my brother Ric's back yard!!




Sunday, September 09, 2012

Grapes Galore

It's that time of year when the sun turns our Concord grapes a ripe and luscious blue.
Yesterday, in between the torrential rains, we took out the ladder and picked a slew of fruit.
Boiling the huge cauldron on the stove, it spilled over and made a giant mess.
And then the power went out before we could clean up all the pans.
No matter.
We ended up with several pitchers of the most delicious purple juice.
Full of Vitamin C.
We had so much fun.





Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Romney's Missing Link: What Caused Our Economic Crisis?

By Richard Kirsch

Mitt Romney wants voters to blame Barack Obama for mishandling the crisis, but he'd also like you to forget who caused it.

In his acceptance speech, Mitt Romney tried hard to communicate how much he empathizes with the economic squeeze on middle-class families. Last Thursday in Tampa, he talked about a symbolic worker who lost one good paying job and replaced it with “two jobs at nine bucks an hour and fewer benefits.” And twice he emphasized that a majority of Americans no longer believe that our children will do better than we have done.

But one thing was missing. Romney made absolutely no attempt to explain how families ended up in such precarious financial straits. Not a word referring to what happened before 2008, other than “this president can tell us it was someone else's fault.” For Mitt, the recession was a spontaneous event. It just happened; Obama inherited it and hasn’t been up to the task of fixing the crisis. So it’s time to give Romney, the job creator, a chance to fix it.

Romney knows that any reference to the recent past will evoke toxic memories of George W. Bush. The last thing he needs to do is to remind voters that the last Republican president triggered the nation’s economic crash. Instead, he wants Americans to start the script they are bringing into the voting booth this year on November 2008. It’s okay, he’s telling us, to accept our disappointment with President Obama, and give the businessman – who really does understand our plight and what it takes to create jobs – a try. After all, when things are this bad, what do you have to lose?

The missing link in Romney’s story is a huge invitation for President Obama to fill in the blanks. It provides an opportunity for him to convince hard-pressed Americans that they should stick with him through tough times. It is a story that President Obama knows how to tell powerfully. But it’s not one that he has been telling on the campaign trail.

President Obama is not starting the clock in November 2008 like Romney did. He is reminding people that they don’t want to “go back.” But the references in his campaign speeches to the Bush years are fleeting; most of his speeches are contrasts between his agenda and Romney-Ryan vision. He absolutely needs to make that contrast, but the problem for swing voters – those Americans who are feeling the intense financial pressure and loss of hope – is that they don’t have a way of understanding which candidate’s program will work better for them. These are people who aren’t ideological and who respond to personalities, which is why Obama has been attacking Romney’s Bain record so hard and why Romney is telling voters that you can like the president but still not vote for him.

What would help move these voters to embrace the Obama agenda and keep them from voting for Romney out of desperation is a story that links how we got into this financial mess with why the Obama agenda is the better way forward. That is what the most powerful political narratives do. The right has a broad and easily understood story about limited government and free enterprise. But the left has a powerful story too, and when he wants to, as he did last December 6th in Osawatomie, Kansas, the president tells it as well as anyone. Here are sections from Obama’s speech last year that lay out how we got into this mess, and in doing so, set up why we need to go forward with him:

Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments -- wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren't -- and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up….

When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. [Emphasis added.] America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country.…

Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren't looking out for the interests of most Americans.…

Finally, a strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street.

In his acceptance speech this past Thursday, Mitt Romney left a huge hole to be filled in our economic narrative. Let’s hope that this Thursday in Charlotte, President Obama fills it as eloquently as he did in Kansas last December. By doing so, he will tell a powerful story that will show those swing voters that he’s not only a nice guy doing his best, but that he understands how we got into this mess and will keep working to get us out of it.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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