My opinions

I treasure Herman Hesse’s essay “On Trees”

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the forces of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals it’s death wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk, in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal tress grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labour is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts. Trees have long thoughts, long breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

© Herman Hesse.
From Wandering by Herman Hesse. Published by Picador. 1972.


“Word Is Out…stories of some of our lives”

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It was deeply moving, after 30 years, to again watch this pioneering film that documents the lives, then and now, of 26 queer trailblazers. Sometimes shyly, sometimes boldly, they knocked down the closet door…for all, forever.

Chanting for Peace on my 65th

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On Friday, August 7, I will join friends and loved ones near and far to chant for peace.

Please consider joining us in spirit sometime that weekend by setting aside some time to be quiet with yourself, and/or with others, to pray, meditate, and visualize world peace.
I will be thinking of you with love as I do the same.

I have a life-long yearning to promote peace. I was a child of war, conceived unintentionally just before my father shipped off to Europe, and born 2 months after D-Day, where he was part of the landing on Normandy beach. My dear mother, who never planned on motherhood, found herself pregnant and fearful that she might never see her husband again. He did make it home 18 months after I arrived, and was a life-long alcoholic — to try to forget the devastation and suffering he must have witnessed, which I cannot begin to imagine, as they fought their way to Berlin. On the day before my birthday every year, the world remembers the horrors of Hiroshima. I was part of the US War Machine in Vietnam and saw the futility of war firsthand.

Since my 30s I have found yoga, meditation, and kirtan to be extremely beneficial in promoting peace of mind and opening the heart. When my ordinary mind quiets through these practices, and my heart opens by chanting these ancient Indian mantras, I feel a deep connection with all beings. I believe, along with Eckhardt Tolle, that it is essential for human survival that we all cultivate practices that lift us beyond our separate egos. We can promote outer peace as we each discover it within our own hearts. I find it a delightful pleasure to chant with other kindred spirits.
Thank you for joining me!

As I approach 65…

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Two friends have sent me the same poem, which resonates deeply at this point in my life:

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott

“Biological Exuberance”

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I recommend this scientific treatise, subtitled, “Animal Homosexuality and Biological Diversity,” by Bruce Bagemihl, 1999, which documents a very gay world in the wild.

It corrects decades of scientific homophobia in under-reporting the incidence of homo-erotic activity in the natural world. For example, it points out that many field observers, when unable to tell the sex of a pair of animals engaged in an erotic exchange, simply assume the mounter is male and the mountee female; thus very few if any homosexual activities were “observed.”  When the same-sex pairing was undeniable, they often labelled it as something other than sexual activity, e.g. “tension-reduction”.

“Summer of Love”, 2003

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On this longest day of 2003, I send cool breezes from Vancouver and warm greetings from my very happy heart! I am thrilled that Canada is poised to declare that love between women and love between men is as worthy of public honour as love between women and men.
Never in my wildest dreams as a young gay man could I have hoped for such a profound social shift in my lifetime. Then, I was deeply conflicted: I felt exhilaration and fulfilment when I was able to share love with another man; in my soul it felt completely natural and right. Yet there was an equally deep shame and guilt at what was still viewed as sick and even criminal, as well as socially repugnant and morally condemed. The confusion between my inner and outer realiteis caused almost unbearable pain.

Now, in less than two generations, our society is entering a new era of interpersonal loving. Young people just coming of age are beginning to take it almost for granted that it’s natural to love either gender or both ( or “all genders” — the rigid distinction between male and female is also blurring into a continuum). It’s as obviously right to them as, at their age, it seemed obvious to me that women deserved to vote—a very contentious issue just 40 years earlier.
I happily predict that in another 40 years, the very labels “straight” and “gay” will seem quaintly dated. Kids will shrug, “What was the Big Deal?” as they freely love whomever they find attractive, regardless of where on the gender spectrum their beloved dwells.
May the fullness of this Solstice light illumine every heart.
I wish you a de-light-full summer — dare I say, “a summer of love?”

At the epicenter of the epidemic: San Francisco, 1987

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Teaching Yoga to People with HIV/AIDS

This article is archived at Google Books.