Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Place to Be Still

I am on a journey again, this weekend at a small conference for contemplative leadership: Search Inside Yourself with Mirabai Bush and Gopi Kallayil at the very special Omega Institute in upstate New York. Mirabai is among the early pioneers who ventured to India in the early seventies and brought mindfulness and meditation back to the United States. I've read her words, marveled at her work to build (with Gopi) a flourishing meditation and yoga program for Google and her luminous quiet courage to just ask us all to be quiet.

I traveled here with our Director of Education at the Museum. We made the pilgrimage across two flights and drove into the Woodstock/West Hurley area adding layers clothing with each passing mile. This dip into autumn places me just where I need to be: sun laced curtains of amber and crimson leaves surround me, and Jack Frost arrived overnight: his first visit to New England this fall.

This is my second visit to Omega, a place for reflection and learning bringing new breath to a very old summer camp for Jewish Children. As I arrived I excitedly looked for all the corners I found last summer: the path to the sanctuary, the "dessert bar" (Omega offers health in body, too), the little Buddha placed under a tree: the one holding an acorn someone left behind.

As an example of a well of Western Buddhism, Omega is the place for exploration, the place to be a kid again, returning to camp, looking for your favorite bunk and the view from it. The discovery of camp, like the discovery of oneself is layered with courage, independence and discovery.

The title of this workshop "Search Inside Yourself" offers many things: a opportunity to meditate with two of the best teachers in America, an opportunity to pause and ask yourself: why am I here? and most importantly an opportunity to pause. Last night Mirabai Bush and Gopi Kallayil opened our session with an invitation to understand our own Emotional Intelligence (EI). Mirabai and Gopi developed this beyond-popular course at Google to help employees increase EI and personal well being and thereby productivity and performance. Much of this is based on Dan Goldman's research and his book Emotional Intelligence.  

Emotional Intelligence is composed of development of the following:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

I learned something very important last night. When Google offered the first mediation classes, attendance was very light. As we do at the Crow, these classes were offered as "stress reduction" and antidotes to stress. Google employees, and humans by nature are high achievers, and didn't want to go to a class that might be an indicator something was "wrong". Gopi recalled "When it was stress reduction people did not flock to it." And so, like all amazing leaders, the planning team went back to the drawing board and with Dan Goldman's research offered new promises gained in mindful work:

1. Teams that feel psychological safety are higher performing teams / and have a higher degree of EI
2. Peak performance is also driven when you create a little space in your life
(from the course Search Inside Yourself, Gopi Kallayil and MIrabai Bush)

Gopi invited us all to create a spacious place to sit back and think. How often do I hear a colleague say "we just don't have any time to think". And so the practice begins again, with me sitting here at a beautiful sun-dappled farmhouse table on a rock ridge in Upstate New York. With the space to think. What if you took just ten minutes today under this autumn sky and settled into yourself, in quiet? What corner would you find?

More information here

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Waiting Game

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Someone said, "If you see clouds in the morning
it is certain to rain
in the afternoon."

Is that a promise, I wonder?
Some folklore of the Sangre de Christo Mountains?
Does pilot know this and cricket, too,
when a cloud casts a shadow on morning dew?

Nature beguiles, this I know.
The suspense in expectation tells me so.
She doesn't plan the burst of shower, the ray of Sun.
She waits until our glance is gone.

The sunrise that tricks, a thousand hues,
The rainbow. The pinecone, wonder anew.
Sit and listen. Secrets are shared,
That one who hears Nature will never be prepared.

For the moment of Awe,
At a hummingbird's shimmer,
The drip of a raindrop of pine needle's center.
The push of a cloud into dragon or bear.
The patterns of breeze as lake's skin meets air.

Sit and listen. She waits for you,
To lose your compass, your time, your place.
To awaken the pulse, stirred by grace.

The grace of alive.
The blessing to see,
The bounty of nature just sitting under a tree.

Baptism Equinox

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Baptism Equinox 

I lost time at the Buddhist Temple. 
Left the cell phone, perhaps with needed intention
On a bench. 
In the middle of the La Posada Hotel lobby. 

Time sits there on a bench. 
Watching the comings and goings
Of Expectation and Consequence. 
The nice couple who just wanted a room with a view. 

The pen is full, though paper empty, 
No clock on the wall. 
They will take care of me, 
Buddha sits before me. 
He is time, 
And complete forgiveness, 
Sitting though the seasons. 
A pinecone placed in his lap. 
Cobweb on pinecone. 
A new home in the Lotus Pose. 

I am the cobweb, 
Creating new places
to walk under a Cerulean blue New Mexico sky. 
It rained last night, 
Rocks dry responsibly as Sun requests them to. 
Skies scrubbed fresh, the Sun pulls back, 
Hibernation begins. 

I am the pinecone in the Buddha's lap. 
Chosen, held, placed by someone else. 
I am the structure for new spaces. 
Sitting in the center of One with An Open Heart. 
Listen, he says, Be Quiet. 

Cricket and dove, pine needles have something to say. 
Through them Wind says hello to Autumn, 
pushing droplets of last night's rain on to my knuckles. 
Bluring the "o" in hello. 
Reminding me that I am real. 
In a skin that feels rain. 

The rain that comes from the place of stars and universe. 
And that's real, too. 
The place where time began. 
With a measurement, and a theory. 
The time we created to mark the hour when I left my cell phone
on a bench in Santa Fe. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Compassion and Consequence

Several weeks ago I attended a conference in the Rio Grande Valley: a lush collection of old railroad towns along the border of Texas and Mexico. As an alumni of the Texas Lyceum, the organization presenting the meeting, I was intrigued by the topic: Beyond the Hype: Immigration and Border Security in Texas.

My husband grew up in Pharr and San Juan, two adjacent towns just a few miles from the border. When we met in 2002 and visited "The Valley" a year later, I fell in love with this part of Texas: a blur of consequence, identity and place. I loved it so much we married there in 2004. Two communities, overlapping for decades over a very fluid river border: employees and employers, access and opportunity are now in the middle of a front page fight about violence, drugs, walls and political will.

I attended this meeting to try to understand more about this very complex problem, or rather set of problems. I went looking for someone to help me make sense of it all: economic impact, ISIS, Drug trafficking, immigration and trade. I went looking for the human story. I went looking for compassion.

On the morning of the second day we filed into the "great hall" of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. On the way in we passed two army tents in the empty parking lot. We were greeted warmly by Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen. He shared a story, just two years ago, of a city and a region in crisis. You'll remember it: thousands of refugees arriving in the valley, fleeing the horrors of gang violence and crime in Central America. It was August 2014. Hundreds of asylum seekers arriving on our side of the river daily: dehydrated and sunburned, hearts weary from sometimes as many as nine months making a dangerous journey across Mexico. It is a story I remember, but it is also a story I forgot.

Sister Norma didn't forget. She didn't get distracted by the next headline or crisis (real or perceived). Two years ago Mayor Jim Darling called her and he asked her to help. Sister Norma, one of the leaders at the church, was called in those critical hours to open the doors to the very humans we build walls to keep out. She spoke to us with warmth and luminous compassion. I'd actually seen her at the dinner the night before, and not yet knowing who she was, said to myself, "that is a woman I would like to know". Two years ago, she quickly designed a harbor for these refugees with one mission in mind, "To restore human dignity".  To restore human dignity. What beautiful words. As she spoke she described a most beautiful protocol. Asylum-seekers, the lucky ones who make it across the swift and dangerous currents of the Rio Grande, are greeted by the Border Patrol on the US side. They walk toward these border warriors with their hands up. They are children, sometimes traveling alone. They are mothers, sisters, brothers, fractured families who have paid immense sums to get to the safer side of the river. They've risked everything, a certain indication that what they've endured on the journey far outweighed the threats of home.

The Border Patrol gives them water and refuge. But before they are taken to the Day Shelter at the Sacred Heart Church, their ankles are banded with a monitoring device: a GPS tracker they will have to charge three-hours a day until they are cleared by the court in some future "Sanctuary City". And where is the plug for that when you're homeless?

As we sat listening to this unimaginable story, 16 asylum-seekers walked in, across the front of the room. I fought tears watching them. Sister Norma explains how she does it, how she restores dignity to these beautiful and brave humans. Her actions, deeply compassionate and astonishingly simple are this:

1. Process the paperwork: welcome them at a table with a warm smile. The children are engaged and acknowledged. I noticed they were hauntingly quiet. They are given bus vouchers and a plan. They are given a sign that says in bold letters "I do not speak English. Please help me find the correct bus."

2. Help them find clothes and toiletries from a vast assemblage of tables piled high with used-clothing donated from well-wishers across the United States. Each section is categorized, and a volunteer helps them find just the right clothing to make the rest of the journey.

3. Take them outside to the army-issue showers. Sister Norma turned the church parking lot into two large tents equipped with showers. When the Governor of Texas called and asked her what she needed this is what she asked for. A hot shower for these weary dispirited souls. One step forward.

4. Feed them. Guests to this day-harbor are given a meal, perhaps the first they've had in days.

5. Say goodbye.  Sojourners are taken to the bus stop where they will begin a multi-day journey to parts very unknown.

In most cases they are traveling to meet a family member. The suspense of this journey must be unimaginable: mothers and fathers separated, waiting for the word of the impossible: the miracle that these loved ones survived the immense impossibilities of this flight.

If they make it to Sister Norma's open arms, they weren't killed by coyotes in a drug exchange gone-wrong. (These travelers are commonly used as a diversion.) They survived dangerous transport on the tops of trains. They didn't die of heat exhaustion on the US side in 105+ temperatures. The twelve year-old girls might still have the "Plan B" tablets they were given when their journey began: sent with real prayers that they wouldn't have to use it. These survivors are human miracles. Sister Norma and the Sacred Heart Chapel receive 80 pilgrims a day on the average.

We cannot turn away nor can we forget these future Americans. We look at Greece and Syria and shake our heads when we read about European countries closing their doors to those in need. This is happening right here in our state, on our watch, just 500 miles from Dallas. The problem is complex: overshadowed by terroristic threats (there have been zero incidents of ISIS crossing over the Mexico/US border), a drug war and an emotionally-charged presidential campaign. In the mix of this is trade: 22 states consider Mexico a number-one or number-two trading partner. The trade between Texas and Mexico represents over 200 Billion dollars and 465,000 jobs. Just in the region of the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican nationals spend 13 Billion annually. Annually 18 million people cross the border to visit McAllen's Outlet Mall. 

It is a complex matrix and these are not small numbers.

The Governor of Texas is asking for an additional $170,000,000 in aid to "secure the border" bringing the total close to a billion dollars of state-support. Texas State Troopers come by the hundreds to "help"--monitoring the river in Swift boats. The machine guns on their boats are more for show than action. The Border Patrol isn't sure how this is helping. It's a very mixed-up model of enforcement and accountability.

And then there's the wall. One leader in law enforcement lamented that in the days after the seventeen-foot wall went up, they started finding hundreds of eighteen-foot ladders left on the US side. They are now piling up in warehouses.

Money. Commerce. Terrorism shroud one issue: our response to the human seeking refuge: asylum: the freedoms we promised in our charter of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

I don't have the answers but I can be inspired to do one thing: love like Sister Norma. I watched her holding strangers, washing their feet and restoring their dignity. I am different because I watched her compassionate heart in action. I watched what happened to those she harbored. Sister Norma hasn't forgotten. I won't forget.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

A Love Story in Dallas

I didn't know what it meant until today: A City of Love. Like so many of you I woke up with eyes puffy from too many tears and too few hours of sleep. 

At 4:37 this morning I woke up and with trembling hands looked to see the awful developments in the news. As the leader of an art museum in the Dallas Arts District I looked for the information our team would need to start this day that will most certainly be in the darkest shadows of our history. 

I found the maps illustrating the street closures: a "crime scene" just blocks from our museum. I sent the information about the rail service and I encouraged our team to work from home if necessary. I couldn't promise them, at 5 this morning, that coming to work was "safe". We didn't know what we didn't know. 

I watched the live press conference of our Mayor and Chief of Police standing in heavy, tired bodies, yet standing and leading. Protecting. And Heartbroken. It was not lost on me that neither said the words I wanted them to say: "It's safe to come back Downtown". Neither said that. 

I decided to go into work. And I invited others to join me, if they wished, in our conference room for a time to talk, to share and to be together. And that's when the love happened: Chapter One of the Love I saw in our City today. 

Our Operations Manager had the room ready: A Circle of Red Chairs, The Video Conference line open, microphone installed. Some called in, most joined me in the room. I found myself in a circle of wonderful, amazing beings: beings that I am blessed by in our work and in our living. The stories flowed: colleagues walking to the museum (and then running) from a downtown event last night for the Asian Film Festival and hearing the gunshots in real time. Others trying desperately to get our guest curators to their downtown hotel and then feeling more desperate realizing we delivered them right to the very epicenter of the danger. We didn't know what we didn't know. Love poured into these stories. One staffer drove another staffer home last night--for no other reason than he is African American. And they were scared. 

We considered how we can be mindful and present in the face of madness and fear. As a museum, we are a place of refuge: an oasis of calm and a place to be alone with your thoughts, yet alone with others. We created something new: something that wasn't there before today. And I watched the love pouring into these compassionate offerings. We sat in silence together, alone with our thoughts: some meditated, some prayed, I drifted between sadness and gratitude, feeling numb and feeling calm, a lump swelling in my throat and a sense that our world changed this morning and we better do something about it, now. 

At noon I walked alone to the City's Interfaith Prayer Service in Thanks-Giving Square. This is Chapter Two in this Love Story. I walked away from the security of our building, away from my responsibility as a wife and mother and right into City Center with thousands of others: crossing empty streets calmly and quietly. In this square in the middle of Downtown Dallas, there was no distance between us. I stood a few feet away from Senators, Congressmen, City Council Leaders, Our Mayor, and Media from all over the country. In fact I walked in with a reporter from the White House. And the love poured in with each beautiful human: vulnerable but not afraid. 

I saw Love walk into our City. And it settled like a blanket of fog in us and over us, each of us consumed by the power of illumined, courageous words and the power of being together. Each speech from diverse faith traditions echoed one word: Love. Each speech was a little miracle, and a very big alleluia. The Imam quoted the Bible. Enemies held hands. The heat, barely noticed, melted my tears. We held hands and cried together. We made a promise to work toward healing. At it's core, Dallas is a City of Love and today this truth was a bright and hot and real as the sun overhead in our bright Texas sky. 

Bishop T.D. Jakes' prayers inspired us beyond imagination. Let this breathtaking video serve as Chapter Three of this Story of Love:

Chapter Four began back in our offices with a gathering of leaders from Compassionate DFW, Thanks-Giving Square, the Art Therapists of North Texas and Educators from the Crow. Would you believe this meeting was scheduled over a week ago? We didn't know what we didn't know. A conversation about how to support Dallas as a Compassionate City turned into the Real Conversation about what it means to put compassion into action now. Love poured into our conference room as new friendships shared a vision for Dallas as a City of Love and Compassion. I cannot imagine having been anywhere else this afternoon than there--in the comfort of new friends, united in a cause for compassion and standing together in the fierce urgency of now. And so the work begins in each of us. Love More. When we walk into the room, into tomorrow and into the next few weeks, love walks with us. For Dallas and for the Fallen Five. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Looking for Compassion in a Broken World

In 1864 our country experienced the bloodiest battle of the Civil War: The Battle of Franklin held in Franklin, Tennessee. 

Somewhere in Texas, a family learned that their beloved son had been killed in the conflict. They packed up their belongings and took a covered wagon to retrieve his remains so he could be properly buried in Texas. Once they arrived in Tennessee, to their own surprise they had a change of heart.

They saw the cemetery with rows and rows of graves (from both sides). 23,000 men and boys died there, and the family didn’t expect to have the calm reaction they did. It wasn't an easy decision, but ultimately their son would remain with his regiment memorialized at the site where he lost his life fighting for freedoms. Freedoms I’m not sure I realize or appreciate.  

We are in a new war. Inside of our own country. Saturday night in Orlando, Florida, our sons and daughters danced with their own freedoms and with abandon on a dance floor that would soon become a battlefield. Parents didn’t get to say goodbye, or hang stars in their window. No one signed up and no one was drafted. But we are all on a battlefield. This plane I am on, the tall office tower I work in—someone, somewhere is designing a strategy to take these places that were safe for us and make them unsafe. Our battlefield is airborne, and being afraid of “catching terrorism” isn’t going to make it go away.

I’ve been living in fear a long time.

When I was a little girl I was afraid of everything: first tornadoes. Living in Tornado Alley in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was so scared of tornadoes I would keep watch in the front yard on cloudy days, looking for mammary clouds, Then I was scared of the end of the world, then alien abduction, then cancer.  And now I am in the most fragile time of our history and our future not really sure how to feel. 

At a recent speech my friend Mina Chang from Linking the World gave us a sobering statistic: "It’s predicted that extremism will directly impact every person in America within the next 10 years”.

Why are we not freaking out?

And clearly that’s not the right response either, but I worry than I exist in my reaction to Orlando somewhere between distraught and helpless, enraged and complacent. Is it the false-gratification of social media? Has my life been so safe and so comfortable that I can’t even exist in a fear and concern that truly motivates me to act?

Well I signed this petition, and I shared it, too, so I must be making a difference.

Maybe if I change my profile picture to #withorlando, others will do the same.

Maybe I should write a blog post.

Cities are doing it too: “profile pics” of buildings awash in rainbow LEDs, flags at half-mast, Paris loves Orlando, and New York, Dallas, too. We are with you, Orlando, but are we really?

I’ve prayed a few times today. I’ve also caught myself staring off into blank space, thoughts flown from the place I was to the victims, the responders, the caregivers, the mothers, the fathers, the city: what is was like inside of Pulse: dark and confusing, unreal. I’ve watched a little news—and that was more than enough.

Last night as the Tony’s concluded, the lyrics from Hamilton’s The Schuyler Sisters put a rock solid pit in my stomach:

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be

In the greatest city in the world.

And those 49 (or is it 50) beautiful souls are not so lucky, are they? I don’t blame The American TheatreWing's Tony Awards. Those event organizers had their hands full with producing a show in the paradox of joy and grief.  But really—maybe a moment of silence at the close of the show would have been the action we needed at the end rather than a reminder that we are lucky. And alive. And I am saying this as a huge fan of Hamilton.

And so it is—the second day after a horrible day. And how long with this stick with us? This ache of sadness: the one that turns into something different? Will the “different” that we forget and go back to “normal”. There is a price for forgetting bad times. 

Or will it be that someone organizes a lecture on what it means to be a Muslim, or sends a care package to a hospital in Florida? Will we meet in small groups and talk about how we really can “be with Orlando?”. 

What compassionate action can I take that will alleviate (even in the smallest way) the suffering of others? Now?

Hopeless isn’t in my vocabulary so it has to be something. There has to be something I can do –I can’t take a covered wagon across the country to honor these fallen heroes, but I can do something about it in my own life: make tomorrow matter more that it was going to before I woke up Sunday morning. Until then I will look for love and light in the darkest places. And I know you’re here with me, too.

What passion in us, besides one motivated by fear will make us patriots again? Where we are living not in fear, but in a new awareness of the world: a world we are all creating together. A world where fear and hate have become replaced with love and compassion. I can choose to live this way, not standing out in front of my house looking for clouds that look like they might become tornadoes, but finding a peace inside--the peace that true patriots know. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lotus Lens Director's Letter, Summer 2016

We launched our year with a two-day course on compassion in the workplace, titled Action and Accountability, developed by our friends at Dorrier Underwood Consulting. Almost sixty participants from organizations like the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, American Airlines, and Toyota gathered with the Crow team to explore communication steeped in loving-kindness: speech that is closer to straight talk, yielding swifter results and more mutual understanding of common goals. One might not expect this work in an Asian art museum, but this effort to better know our true nature is beautifully aligned with our study of compassion as it is realized in ourselves, our work, and in our museum.

For the Crow Collection of Asian Art, three primary goals emerged for 2016: Fundraising, Multiculturalism, and Compassion. In tandem with premiering beautiful collections this year from Brooklyn, Chicago, and Mexico City, the Crow team is forging paths to greater independence through the launch of a development office and extending the opportunity of growing this museum to all of you in the community. In January, we received our first gift of significance, inspiring us to delve into new relationships with our beloved donors and partnering with the corporate communities as well.
Thanks to the bright initiative in the education department, multiculturalism has also been a topic of impassioned commitment among our team. I am proud to write that we are looking at our museum with fresh eyes toward mission and vision, and how this collection, forged by Margaret and Trammell Crow, finds relevance in the diverse landscape that is Dallas seventeen years later. We’ve held several internal workshops, increasing our understanding of how we are perceived in the community and how we wish to be known. This new world of broader understanding is a practice of self-compassion and one that will make our museum stronger and more diverse in the future.

In the first quarter of the year, we launched a multi-year Study of Compassion with a series of lectures devoted to this topic and how compassion relates to a human experience of art and healing. A collection of podcasts on compassion will be posted on our website and through social media in the future, as we continue to discover compassion for ourselves in an effort to make connections for others.

The opportunity to explore compassion in the works of Tibetan Buddhism is yours through the summer in Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection. Curator Dr. Kathryn Selig Brown’s delightful interview with Dr. Jacqueline Chao in this issue of the Lotus Lens illuminates lessons of compassion as they relate to attainment of enlightenment through wisdom—all captured beneath the delicate repouss√© book covers in the esteemed MacLean Collection.

Additionally, Dr. Qing Chang unveils new research of the cinnabar Lacquer vase in the collection, launching an important new commitment toward scholarly research and unprecedented study of our works. I am proud of the board’s attention to this critical and compassionate step toward our future as 

Thoughts on Study

Compassion, when one starts to look for it, whether in the gestural curves of a stele of Vishnu or in the graceful teaching mudras of a Bodhisaatva, exists in many places in and around the Dallas Arts District. Compassion is, when one starts to look for it, everywhere.

One of the first places that inspired the Study of Compassion is one block away at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Just off to the right of the main entrance, next to a life-size statue of the Virgin, is a small vestibule for the placing of prayer candles. At night, it glows: hundreds of candles placed lovingly on the shelves are a manifestation of hope and devotion, compassion and love. Placing these candles is not only a practice of a religious faith, it is an action to express care and concern for another’s suffering. Compassion lives, twenty-four hours a day, at our treasured downtown cathedral.

This experience, of being consumed by the candles in both sense and sight, propelled me to ask: Where do we find compassion in our daily lives and practices? And how can we find more of it? Very occasionally, a visitor might leave a small offering of a coin or two on the pedestal in front of the Ganesha or linger with the Buddha as part of their own practice, but how can we teach the complex lessons of compassion every day at the Crow Collection of Asian Art? Why does the need for compassion seem more urgent with every passing headline?

Where do we start? I wrote first to Karen Armstrong, author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and founder of The Charter for Compassion. Since our visit by phone, the museum has signed the Charter and joined a coalition of more than thirty cities in North Texas committed to compassion and education. Ms. Armstrong’s third chapter: Self-compassion was the signpost I was looking for, and the one I needed the most. Before we can illuminate compassion in Asian Art and teach others, we have to look to where compassion lives in us. And in me. Where does compassion live in the words that I speak, and the actions I make in conversations with others? Am I authentically practicing loving-kindness when I criticize others or speak with pretense? No. Compassion lives in the moment I pause, take a deep breath, and send love in the place of what was there. This reaction, the negative one, is the mindfulness bell to change the moment to a new action: something kind and understanding. And then, when that happens, yes, I am compassion. We all are.