Contemplative Space

New Orleans:  Everyone should have a good doctor.  I have several. 

There is Dr. Emmett Aluli, my good friend who runs the clinic on Molokai Island in Hawaii, there’s Zach Polett, who runs Project Vote and is ACORN’s political director, but who went to Stanford medical school for two years before he hired on with me, and then there’s Jay Hessey, an old friend and organizer for SEIU, who specializes in holistic medicine, and finally, Andrea Kydd, another old friend who is a program officer for the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, but goes back with me to the day as an organizer with welfare rights, who I consult on matters of mental health.   Today as daylight savings time comes in, time is on my mind — along with other things — so I would advice from Andrea has kept coming to mind all morning.

As opposed to many, Andrea was paid to become a health whiz, because she drew the straw on her job that specialized in what was happening in health care.  Consequently, she was paid to get ahead of the curve and figure out what was really happening on the cutting edges.  Andrea’s health advice I find very solid, but it is not without a fine sense of irony that one accepts her advice.  For example during a meeting once a dozen years ago, she passed me a note that her dad was dying, and I really needed to think about quitting smoking — it would mean a lot to her she said in the note.  I was greatly moved by her thoughtfulness and kindness.  I haven’t smoked for ten years now — though that is another story all together — but I did notice when I saw Andrea in New York City last week that she met me on the curb in front of her job to start our conversation, so SHE could grab a cigarette.  So, this is a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Anyway, we were talking these lo many fifteen or more years ago — and probably sharing a smoke for godsake! — out in the deep fog a little ways out from Bolinas north of San Francisco.  She was explaining some of her work to me at the time.  She was getting up to snuff on general health benefits that come from creating what she called “contemplative space.”  The bottom line seemed to be that if you could find it or make time for it in your life, then from what Andrea had determined, you were going to be healthier.  I bemoaned the fact that unfortunately the one thing I did not have was time, and I surely therefore did not any “contemplative space” so I was a gon pecan, cher. 

Andrea scoffed at that and said that in fact in my life running every day was how she believed that I had found contemplative space, which probably centered my life in some way and immeasurably helped my mental health as well as my physical well being.  She may have gotten all of this abracadabra from quacks for all I know, but for me it was a gift that I have taken on board with me from that time forward and think of almost daily, especially now and when I’m on the road.  Now when I run, my right knee hurts more than the left knee that I have gimped along with since the cartilage was torn playing high school football.   My feet have started to hurt, especially the right one.  The pace is slower and the road seems always longer. 

But Andrea’s off handed comment has become a mantra that pulls me out every morning to do something no matter what, because I find a way to seek that contemplative space and slow the world enough to let me catch up for a minute or two no matter how quickly everything is racing forward at warp speed. 

Losing an hour today, one particularly appreciates good advice, and in my case — and perhaps yours — it’s just what the doctors ordered!

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Slings of Outrageous Fortune

San Francisco: Having been on the board of the Tides Foundation (www.tides.org) along with its founder, Drummond Pike, since its inception more than 25 years ago, I can assure that it has largely labored in the vineyards outside of the bright lights, avoiding with professional pride both self-aggrandizement and notoriety.  All of which made Tides ill prepared to find itself the subject of what has become the standard scurrilous attack by the conservatives through their house organs, like the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. 

 I should make this point more sharply.  Tides was less the subject of the attack than a blunt instrument that some right handed sorts were wielding about somewhat wildly to try and bop John Kerry, the putative Democratic nominee for President.  Seems Mrs. Heinz Kerry, who as a matter of pure fact is rich as Croesus, had through several of the Heinz Foundations made some grants to projects of Tides and in concert with us.  A light toss of the shovel revealed to some opposition researcher in front of a computer screen somewhere that in the thousands of grants made by Tides that we had laid deep seed throughout the fertile plain of the progressive moment in our times.   This was rough work that could not be sanded down well.  It was a matter of tossing disparate and unrelated things into a big sack with a huge shake and then trying to make quite a bit of the way everything fell together in a pickup sticks of random association.  The painting and smearing of Mrs. Heinz Kerry and therefore the candidate was to be done with a broad brush, which would look best from a considerable distance.  I grimaced a little to hear that one of the larger sticks being swung was a grant by Tides’ Frontera Fund to the Ruckus Society (www.ruckus.org), which I had personally advised — a righteous grant in fact and a mere pittance of $5 grand out of the tens of millions granted by Tides that particular year.

 My reaction to problems of this kind — certainly this was usual, customary, and old hat for ACORN — was the famous Huey Long dictum:  there is no effective response to a public attack.  Said another way, let it ride, and it will go away like water on a duck’s back.  Others though felt strongly, and one had to concede that they were also experienced, battle scarred veterans of constant and vicious attack.  This was not ACORN or a union, but Tides with a different base, so these voices needed to be heeded.

 The remarks of one new Tides board member, Antonio Romero, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (www.aclu.org) warranted attention since certainly the ACLU is one of the favorite and ever popular whipping boys of the right since its founding.  The ACLU he mentioned is a $70 M operation, if consolidated, with a sophisticated presence that moves 2 M letters per year from their website, which generates 20 M hits per year and signs up 30000 members for them and creates a deeply loyal base of support which has now meant that almost a quarter of their annual budget is funded by the testamentary gifts of their members and adherents when they move over to more passive resistance.   With passion he counseled standing and fighting and taking the offensive.

 Another newer board member, Robin Wolander, a savvy media professional with years of high flying publishing success in her background, listened carefully and then wrapped her arms around the flaws of the conservative attacks having not been rooted in any facts, but instead in total inaccuracies.  She argued effectively that these were rare times within journalism because not vetting and moving with the facts finally came with penalties as we had all seen in the fall of reporters for the New York Times  and USA Today.    She had all of us in rapt attention as she rattled off web sites for the insiders among media and reporters and where one needed to mount the counterattack on the home ground and back channels of the media mavens themselves. 

 Listening to Tony and Robin’s different, but bold and effective advice, I thought in these difficult and contentious times how fortunate we had been to stumble into a fight we had not expected and then to find that we had equipped ourselves, perhaps more through luck than insight with new weapons in our struggle.  In so many non-profits, including foundations and even sometimes Tides, boards sometimes seem necessary evils, but there could have been no staff person honest to their name listening to that conversation who would not find themselves on their knees later that night thanking someone for looking after them and repenting every harsh word and damnation they had ever whispered under their breath at some stupid question or callous comment board members — like myself  — might have made in the past.  

In this new war all is forgiven of the warriors fighting side by side.  It’s all hands on deck, watch each other’s back, and fire when you see the whites of their eyes!

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