January 12, 2018

Fritjof Capra and His Work

[Taking Capra Course was one of the most mind-opening learning experiences for me in 2017. It's an online course taught by Fritjof Capra based on his book--The Systems View of Life, which will certainly inspire more people to apply systems thinking in their organizations, corporations, and governments, and in all aspects of our lives. It can help unify series of social movements, such as the environmental and ecological movement, the feminine movement, the peace (non-violent) movement, the racial justice movement, and the holistic health movement, etc.

Also through Capra's teaching, I understood conceptually how ServiceSapce ecosystem has been able to grow through relationships and networks and why ServiceSpace continuously holds space and circles for emergent questions and projects. Later last year, Fritjof Capra generously accepted our invitation to be on our Awakin Call in March this year. Deep gratitude for his generosity and humility, his love for teaching, and his gift in learning through dialogues. You can read more about his journey and his work in the following passage.]

Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., Austrian-born American physicist and systems theorist, spoke on “Voices” in London in 1984, “For the modern physicist, the material world is no longer a mechanic system made of separate objects, but rather appears as a complex web of relationships that include the human observer and his or her consciousness. There is no material substance in the subatomic world; it’s a world of dynamic patterns, continually changing into one another.” He regarded the paradigm shift in modern physics as a precursor to the cultural transformation from a mechanistic worldview to an ecological vision of reality, and systems theory as a scientific framework for the new paradigm.

Capra is a scientist, educator, activist, and author of many international bestsellers. Over the past three decades, he has been engaged in a systematic exploration of how other sciences and society are ushering in a similar shift in worldview, or paradigms, leading to a new understanding of the social implications of this cultural transformation.

He first became popularly known for his book published in 1975, The Tao of Physics, which explored the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism, and how modern physics was changing our mechanistic worldview to a holistic and ecological worldview. Four decades later, The Tao of Physics is still in print in more than 40 editions worldwide.

Inspired at age 18 by the book Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, Capra realized early on that quantum physics implied a whole new worldview. After receiving his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Vienna in 1966, Capra spent 20 years conducting research in high energy physics at different universities in Europe and the U.S. and also taught at some of the universities. In 1968, after two years in Paris, Capra came to work at the University of California in Santa Cruz, where he encountered the counter-culture hippie movement and became interested in meditation and Eastern philosophy. Almost immediately, he saw the connection between the ancient Eastern philosophy and modern physics.

One late summer afternoon, when Capra sat on a Californian beach watching the waves and feeling his breathing, he suddenly became aware of his entire surroundings, the sand, rocks, water, and air, as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. What he learned in high-energy physics through graphs, diagrams, and mathematical theories suddenly came to life, as he “saw” and “heard” the Dance of Shiva. Being trained in detailed analytical thinking, Capra was so overwhelmed by this transformative experiential insight that he burst into tears.

In 1971, when he worked at the Imperial College in London, Capra made a photomontage of particle tracks in bubble chamber with the Dancing Shiva. When he showed it to an Indian physicist in his office, his Indian colleague, who had to remove himself from his Indian tradition in order to study physics, cried at the sight of this profound unifying image. After publishing three articles addressing the connections between Eastern philosophy and modern physics, Capra began to write his first book The Tao of Physics.

Capra’s later books include: The Turning Point (1982), Uncommon Wisdom (1988), The Web of Life (1996), The Hidden Connections (2002), The Science of Leonardo (2007), and Learning from Leonardo (2013). The movie Mindwalk (1990) is loosely based on his book, The Turning Point. All his books connect conceptual changes in science with broader changes in worldview and values in society. In 1991, Capra co-authored Belonging to the Universe with Brother David (David Steindl-Rast), a highly regarded Benedictine monk, to explore parallels between new paradigm thinking in science and in theology, and how these new paradigms offer remarkably compatible views about the universe.

As a young child, Capra had direct contact with nature and learned to farm. Born in 1939 in Vienna, Capra lived on his grandmother’s farm for 10 years when his whole family took refuge in the countryside after World War II. By necessity, his extended family and war refugees found a way to live on the farm self-sufficiently as a community. They grew vegetables, baked bread, and raised animals. He saw women taking sunflower seeds off the sunflowers to make sunflower oil under the lamp light in the evening. Everything was recycled and reused on the farm.

Those early years planted in Capra the seeds of ecological awareness, sense of community, and sustainability. Today, over 60 years later, he can still draw a detailed map of the farm after it was long gone. Knowing deeply the significance of taking children out to nature or school gardens, in 1995, Capra co-founded the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy, which is dedicated to advancing ecology and systems thinking in primary and secondary education. He co-authored EcoManagement, and Green Politics, etc.

Over the past thirty-five years, Capra has frequently given management seminars to top executives in Europe, North and South America, and Japan. Currently, Capra serves on the faculty of the Amana-Key executive education program in São Paulo, Brazil, and is a fellow at Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies in the UK. He also serves on the council of the Earth Charter Initiative.

His recent book, The Systems View of Life (2014), which he co-authored with Pier Luigi Luisi, Professor of Biology at the University of Rome, explores the new systemic conception of life at the forefront of science and its application in economics, management, politics, design, medicine, and law. It presents a grand new synthesis of Capra’s work—integrating the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life into one unified vision. Several critics have suggested that The Systems View of Life is destined to become another classic.

Capra is now in transition from active research and writing to teaching and sharing knowledge. He no longer gives workshops or seminars, and has reduced his travels and lectures to concentrate fully on Capra Course, his new online course, based on the textbook The Systems View of Life. During the 12 online lectures, participants from around the world join the discussion on systems thinking with Capra. This course is the realization of a dream that Capra had for many years. It will provide the participants the conceptual tools to understand the nature of our systemic problems and to recognize the systemic solutions that are being developed by individuals and organizations around the world. He hopes that Capra Course will serve as a model for similar multidisciplinary courses at universities, colleges, and other institutions of learning.

The alumni of the Capra Course stay connected online and in person around the world, sharing ideas and collaborating on emergent social projects, such as BARRIO SOLAR, a new organization formed in 2017 through the Capra Course alumni network in response to the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Capra holds deep gratitude for his mother, a poet, who brought literature into his life, and his father, a lawyer by trade and a philosopher at heart, who ushered him to the world of philosophy at an early age.

Scientists, therefore, are responsible for their research not only intellectually but also morally. This responsibility has become an important issue in many of today's sciences, but especially so in physics, in which the results of quantum mechanics and relativity theory have opened up two very different paths for physicists to pursue. They may lead us—to put it in extreme terms—to the Buddha or to the Bomb, and it is up to each of us to decide which path to take.” ------- Fritjof Capra, from The Turning Point

Sources and Other Related Articles:

November 22, 2017

My Journey of Performing My Life Stories on Stage

Being a Chinese peasant’s daughter was my biggest shame growing up in China. In the '80s and '90s, peasants made up 80% of the population in China. They had the lowest social ranks, not only excluded from enjoying any social benefits, but also had to pay heavy agricultural taxes. When my family went to town, I could feel that we were looked down upon by city people. From a young age, I struggled with this discrimination against peasants and only wished that I were born to factory workers’ family. I saw my mother crying many times for not being respected. She said that she would do anything to support my brother and me going to school, so we would not grow up to be peasants like her.

Thirteen years ago, I crossed the Pacific Ocean to pursue my American “dream” of building a new social status for myself and my family. But five years later, that “dream” changed. I felt lost in climbing the social ladder in Corporate America. The “dream” was turned into an open-ended search, which still keeps unfolding. That was when I first started telling my stories on stage as a personal healing process.

 The Marsh, San Francisco (2012)

The Open Book, Grass Valley (2017)

Two years ago, after six years of writing and performing in various venues in the Bay Area, I grew tired of the same old story that I kept telling. Recounting what happened in the past didn’t lead me onto any new path that was meaningful to me. Meanwhile, as I met more and more people who devoted their lives to serving meaningful causes in their communities or in the world, I felt ashamed and guilty of focusing on myself. Inside, I felt deeply lost again. Thus, I stopped performing.

After a two-year hiatus, life somehow led me back to my own story. It is a story that will wait for me to finish if I don’t. After acting in the play Chinglish, produced by Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) last year, I was invited by Jeannie Wood, the Executive Director of CATS, to share my full-length story at a book store in Grass Valley. I accepted it. I was thankful that Jeannie valued my story, but also anxious and perplexed about my new relationship with my own story, with my mother and my family, with my ongoing search of the meaning of life, and with China.

My mother is a generous soul who always serves, serving her own family and also neighbors and friends, while I have been very much focused on myself, studying, working, and finding the best way to live my life. It has always been my needs that come first. But as I grow older, I want to be more like my mother. My mother continues to be such a resilient and adaptable life force in my life, and I realized that there is so much I can learn from my illiterate mother, who is open to new things and ready to leap forward with relentless courage. 

Last year, I went back to China and lived there for five months. My decision to spend more time with my parents in China was not out of filial obligation, but a longing in my heart to be physically closer to my parents and to give thanks to them on a day-to-day basis for what they have done for me. In other words, I wanted to cultivate kindness within myself at the root level. While cultivating kindness within, I began to see kindness in many others in China. Instead of being cynical about the ugly side of China, I began to look at modern China with fresh eyes.

Filial piety is a virtue of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors. During the trip to China, I learned that there are four levels of filial piety: First, taking care of parents’ body (offer parents food, clothing and other necessities); second, taking care of parents’ heart (make them happy and not worried); third, helping realize parents’ dreams and purpose in life; fourth, opening parents’ minds and hearts for wisdom.

On one hand, I am thankful that I learned what true filial respect means before it is too late; on the other hand, I realized that becoming a filial daughter would be a lifelong practice.

I want to
integrate and reconcile the two cultures across the Pacific within me, without imposing one on the other. It’s a lifelong dance between the ancient and the modern, the East and the West, and between the seeking of personal liberation and family and social responsibilities.

I often ask myself: What is my passion in this life? What is my service to this world? These questions are still alive in me as my life continues to unfold. But it's clear to me that I want to live a life with integrity, not running away from my own shadows. I want to cultivate a deep sense of inner peace that gives me clarity and strength to go on each day. Every day is a potential new beginning. If I can find a way to shine light into all the shadows and struggles in me, I'd like to use that same light to light up the world. That could be my service to the world, I think. As the Zen Master
Dōgen Zenji put it, "To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things." Hope delving into my personal story could be my way of being liberated from it and then go beyond together with many others.

Upcoming performance at The Marsh Rising on February 7, 2018, Wednesday, 7:30pm.

October 5, 2017

Reading The Story of The Other Wise Man

I picked up this little book, The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke, at the Bay Area Storytelling Festival several years ago, and only read it recently. I'm deeply touched by the journey of this wise Persian man's seeking through services to humanity even when his services seemed to "distract" him from reaching the divine at times.

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.

The Story of the Other Wise Man
Some may know the story of Three Wise Men of the East, who traveled far to arrive in Bethlehem to meet the newborn Jesus, after seeing the sign from the stars. This story is about the “fourth” wise man named Artaban, who never made it to the physical presence of Jesus. He missed the appointed time to meet at the ancient Temple of the Seven Spheres where his three brethren waited for him for ten days before caravanning on their pilgrimage to Bethlehem.

Artaban sold everything he had for three treasures that he could gift to the newborn King of Israel--a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. He invited his friends to join him on this great pilgrimage too, but nobody believed in his vision. On the tenth day of his journey alone to the Temple with his tired horse, he was so close to his destiny when he saw on his path a dying man. Although he was painfully aware that helping that man could severely delay his meeting with his brethren, he couldn’t just walk away from that dying man and leave him for animals to devour. After restoring the man’s life, he traveled as fast as he could to the Temple, but only found a note from his companions who thought he might have given up on the pilgrimage.

In order to cross the desert alone, he had to sell the sapphire to buy camels and other supplies. Finally he arrived in Bethlehem, but three days too late to see the child, whose parents had fled to Egypt to avoid the massacre of infants in that area by King Herod.

In the middle of the massacre, Artaban used the ruby to save another child’s life before he traveled to Egypt and later many other countries. After 33 years, he was still a pilgrim, searching for Jesus. During those years, he found no one to worship but many to help. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and comforted the captive. It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. He became old and weary. Sometimes he would wonder if his friend was right, “The darkness is equal to the light, and that the conflict between them will never be ended” With his last jewel, the pearl, resting in a secret place in his bosom, he arrived in Jerusalem again.

He learned that the King who had somehow led him for a lifetime of seeking over land and sea had arisen, and had been denied and cast out. There finally came a time for Artaban to offer the pearl for His ransom before he dies. As he followed the crowd to the execution site, a woman broke away from her tormentors and threw herself at his feet asking for saving her from being a slave. Artaban trembled. It was the old conflict in his soul. But how could he not help this woman? He took out the pearl and laid it in the hand of the slave.

Just then, sudden tremors ran through the earth and Artaban found himself lying helplessly beneath a fallen wall. As he was dying, a voice came to him:

"Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me."

A calm radiance brightening his pale face, Artaban found his King.

So often, as I hurry on my way to see a teacher who teaches compassion and love, I fail to see the elder who needs my help by the roadside. What am I really seeking then? There may be many ways climbing the sacred mountain; cultivating a pure heart and doing small acts of compassion at each divine or mundane moment seem to make the most sense. What is divine and what is mundane?

July 31, 2017

舍得 (To Gain is to Give) —The Story of A Chinese Mother (Translation)

   [I was greatly moved by this story written by a Chinese writer, ZHAO Haining. I felt inspired to translate it into English. It's a story of an illiterate peasant mother who helped and transformed many lives with small acts of kindness and her willingness to give when she lived. At her funeral, the line of people who attended was so long that it queued from one end of the village to the other. She reminds me of the essence of my own mother.]

Ten years after my father died, under my half begging and half forcing, my mother finally agreed to come to Zhengzhou to live with me—her youngest daughter. That year, she was 70, and I was 40. As age shrank her skinny one-and-half-meter-tall body by a few centimeters, she looked even smaller. But her face still looked bright and clean with few visible weathering marks, and her hair was not completely gray, some black hair remained resilient among the gray.

We borrowed a car to pick her up from her old home in a village. She had long ago cleaned up the old house where she had lived for many decades, and packed her belongings. Among her luggage were two sacks of wheat flour, which she ground for us from the wheat she grew. This kind of flour had a fresh wheat smell. But that day, I decided not to take those two sacks of flour, because the trunk of our car was too small for too much stuff. But my mother insisted we take the wheat. “Must take it,” she said.

When she said so, I looked at her and suddenly realized something. I hinted my husband to take the sack to the back room. I ran my hands through the outside of the sack and sure enough, at the bottom of the sack, I felt a small hard pack in the soft flour. If my guess was right, that was the money that my mother wanted to give us.

Putting money in the food sacks was my mother’s secret for many years. Over a decade ago, when I just got married, we rented a small apartment in Zhengzhou. It was the most financially challenging time in our life. Back then, what I wanted the most was not a house, nor a promising job, but a wardrobe. That winter, my mother asked someone from the village to bring us half sack of rice. When my husband poured the rice into the rice bucket, he discovered the hidden 500 yuan and a note my father wrote: Buy Mei a wardrobe. When I got married, my mother had already given me the wardrobe money. When she found out that I had to use that wardrobe money on other things, she wanted to re-gift me that money. That night, holding in my hand that stack of 10 yuan bills from the rice sack, I cried. During those years, Mother saved money and put it in the food sacks to give it to me, and to my two older sisters. Even after we had married for many years, she continued to subsidize us. But how did she save that much money from growing food in our family fields of only several mu [which is less than an acre]? We had no idea. This time, even though she was coming with us, she still put money in the flour sack. To her, that was the safest place.

We brought the flour sacks with us. When I took out the money to give it back to Mother, she said the money was for her grandson Tongtong to buy a bicycle. Lately, our son really wanted a race bicycle. But because it was expensive, I didn’t buy it for him. Last time when we visited my mother, he might have mentioned it to her. So my mother remembered it. 2,000 yuan. It might be her income from the family fields for the whole year. Even we wouldn’t want to spend that much money, but my mother would just give so generously.

In my memory, my mother always gave, to us, to our relatives, to neighbors. She never hesitated to give love, to give material things, to lend money, or to offer labor.  Sometimes I just couldn’t figure out how a small peasant woman like her could be so generous. After she lived with us, every morning, she got up early to make breakfast: rice porridge, small buns, egg pancakes…. Every day the meal was different. When we got off work at noon, we no longer needed to rush to the market to buy things to cook, my mother did all the house chores. And two new pots of garlic sprouts appeared on our balcony. With my mother living with us, we had a sense of unspeakable ease at home.

Those two sacks of flour, one was poured into a bucket, and the other my husband left it on the balcony floor. Several days later, I found that sack was moved to a platform to dry. My husband couldn’t be this thoughtful. I asked my mother, and she said, “Ah, I put it there to dry so it won’t go bad.” That instantly upset me: That platform was over one meter high, that flour sack was about 30 to 35 kg, and Mother was less than 45 kg. How did she put the flour onto that platform? I raised my voice, “How did you do it? It’s so heavy. What if you hurt your back? What if the sack falls on you? What if something happens to you?” I shot her a series of questions, while she was just standing there in her apron, smiling, and waiting for my storm of anger to subside. Then she said softly,
“I’m fine now, right?”
“If you were not Okay, it would be too late!”
My temper continued until my mother promised that she would not do such heavy duty again.

One day, not too long after my mother moved in with us, she said to my husband, “Invite your [former] classmates and friends to come for lunch this Sunday. I’m here for almost a month, and still haven’t met any of them.” My husband went to college in this city, and it was true that he had many classmates living in the same city and maintained good friendships with them. They used to hang out at each other’s homes, but now they got used to gathering in restaurants. Such is city life, glamorous but indifferent. Very few still host guests at home, except for those who established very close relationships. So I explained for my husband, “Ma, they often gather in restaurants.” Mother shook her head, “Eating out can’t be as good as eating at home. Not only it’s expensive to eat out, but not very clean. Besides, how can we not host friends at home? Receiving them at home is more like a family.” My mother insisted my husband invite his friends to our home. We couldn’t dissuade her, so we agreed.

My husband called several of his closest friends who also came from the same hometown as his, and invited them to come over that weekend. That day, my mother was busy cooking in the kitchen all day. In the afternoon, when my husband’s friends came one by one with some token gifts, I brought to the table the dishes that my mother made. Those successful career men, almost dined out daily, were instantly enticed by the small dishes and the dim sums that my mother made. One of them couldn’t help picking up a veggie dumpling, and murmured that his favorite dish as a child was the dumpling that his mother made, but he hadn’t tasted it for many years. My mother put the entire plate in front of him, and said, “If you like them, eat more, and come here often. I’ll make them for all of you.” That man nodded, tears instantly reddened his eyes. His mother passed away many years ago and he hadn’t visited his hometown for a long time.

That evening, everyone drank only little alcohol but ate and talked a lot. What they talked about was not the usual subjects about businesses or work, or other social matters that they normally talked about at the restaurants. The seldom mentioned family matters slowly emerged in their conversation. They talked about their hometown, their parents…. It was such a long-lost family feel. After that, our home became a more popular gathering place than it had ever been before. Mother said this was good--as humans living in this world, it’s natural for us to connect with one another.

The third month since my mother moved in with us, one weekend afternoon, someone knocked on the door. It was the woman who lived across from our apartment. In her hands, she had a basin of washed big cherries. She said, a little blushed, the cherries were for my mother to taste. I was astonished. When we first moved here, we had a little conflict with her family due to a cable wiring issue during the remodeling of our apartment. We didn’t know each other well before that conflict; so after that, we became more estranged from each other. During the past three years, we didn’t interact with each other at all, even when we swept the small space in front of our doors, we swept only our side. Now she suddenly came to gift us fresh cherries. I was so caught off guard that I didn’t know what to say. She blushed and babbled, “Your mother’s homemade dim sums, our kid loves….” I suddenly realized that it was my mother. She didn’t know our two families had conflict. But I knew that even if she had known that, she would still have done that. To my mother, what made the most sense was that saying, “Remote relatives are not as important as nearby neighbors.” So she knocked on our neighbor’s door first, and gave them the dim sums she made, the wrapped sticky rice, the fresh garlic sprouts she grew.... With an open heart, she opened our neighbor’s door for us. Later, that woman and I became friends. Her kid often came to our house to play, following my mother around and calling her, “Granny! Granny!” as if we were one family.

Neighbors—not just those who lived across from us, but also those who lived in the front, the back, the left and the right in the same community—my mother took care of them all. She often talked with my husband’s coworkers’ parents in the park in our compound, and helped them take care of their grandson. Not only this, there were exchanges of small gifts. With joy, she often gifted the neighbors the local delicacies that she made. It was a habit that she had when she lived in the village. Though small delicacies were not significant in terms of money, they had a special flavor that was hard to buy anywhere else—a flavor that was enhanced by genuine human connections.

One time, when my mother heard one of my husband’s colleagues’ kid had leukemia, she asked us to support that family with some money. Because that colleague wasn’t that close to us, we only intended to do it as a mere gesture, but my mother absolutely disapproved of us. She said, in a human’s life, anyone could encounter challenges. If you were generous to help others, when you need help, others would be generous with you too. A kid with leukemia was a sky-high hardship for that family, and since we knew about it, we should do whatever we could to help. We listened and did what she said.

After my mother lived with us for half a year, my husband got an unexpected promotion. The votes for him were clearly much higher than for other candidates. My husband came home with a big smile, and he said it was because of my mother’s virtue that had won him so many votes. We then realized how much better that our relationships with others had become; better meant that our relationships now contained less superficial politeness and far more sincerity. Our illiterate mother, because of her generosity, brought into our life so many treasures in such a humble way. Those treasures were what we had been trying to gain but could never get. Rethink about what she said, if you were generous towards others, others would be generous towards you too. For her, a peasant woman, that was a simple truth; for us, it was such a profound teaching.

When the weather was good, I always wanted to take my mother out to go somewhere, but she always got carsick. Every time after a ride in a car or on a bus, she felt as if she suffered from a serious illness. So she often refused to go anywhere with me. That weekend, I wanted to take her to the zoo. Mother said she had never seen an elephant. The zoo was several bus stops away. Mother said, “Let’s walk there.” I disagreed. That distance was still a little too far for a 70-year-old to walk, but she absolutely didn’t want to take the bus. Then I had an idea. “Ma, let me get you there on my bike! Mother smiled. I pushed out the bike and carefully lifted her with one arm onto the crossbar between the seat and handlebars. My heart ached as I lifted her. She was so light, curling up in front of me like a little child.

We had to pass two intersections, one of which was right in the most bustling downtown area. I carefully biked to the intersection. It was red light. I got off the bike. Before I stood steady, a policeman came to me through the crowd and said, “Did you know it’s not allowed to have another person on your bike? And you even let her sit in the front.” After he finished, he lowered his head and began to write a ticket. Mother was taken back for a moment. She pulled my arm and wanted to get off the bike. I immediately repositioned her steady, and said sorry to the policeman, and explained that my mother was carsick and too old to take the bus, but I wanted to take her to the zoo….

The policeman paused for a moment, and then realized that the person I was taking on my bike was an old person. Before he spoke again, my mother criticized me for not telling her that it was not allowed to carry a person on a bike in the city. She insisted she get off. When I didn’t know what to do, that policeman reached out to hold my mother and said, “Auntie, sorry, I didn’t see you clearly earlier. The rule only applies to kids. Respectable you, please sit well.” Suddenly, he raised his hand and gave us a serious salute. Then he turned around to ask people in front of us to clear the way, and stopped the vehicles from all directions, then signaled us to cross the intersection. I, with my mother, slowly biked through that big intersection; all cars and pedestrians stopped, watching me proudly pedaling my mother forward.

That was the first time that I received such high respect. Because of my mother, because I gave her a tiny amount of love, a just-met policeman was moved to give me an exception with such respect. That solute was a gift from my mother.

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in the third year of living with us. After the result came out, the doctor, also a friend, said to us sincerely, “For your mother’s sake, don’t do the surgery. Let life decide.” This should not be coming from a doctor, but he was honest. After discussing it with my husband, we decided to listen to the doctor and take my mother home. And we decided to tell her the truth. Mother listened to us very calmly, and nodded after we finished. She said this was the right thing to do. Then she said she wanted to go back to her old home.

During the last phase of my mother’s life, I stayed by her side. Drugs were used for pain control only, but couldn’t stop the invasion of the cancer. Her body was rapidly weakened, and could no longer stand up. In good weather, I carried her out and gently put her on the recliner and sat with her in the sun. Slowly, she could not eat anymore, then even water, she had to spit out. But she never expressed pain on her face. Her remaining black hair still stood resiliently among her gray hair.… Her face was skinny, yet still bright and clean. Whenever she was awake, she always wore a smile. On her last day, she said to me,
“Your father misses me.”
“But Ma, I don’t want you to go.”
I held her hand in mine, wanting to hold it tightly, but was afraid to squeeze her too hard, so I held it gently. “Mei, this time, you must be willing to give.” She smiled, and then gently withdrew her hand, and patted my hand. This time, Mother, I can’t generously let you go. But I couldn’t speak. My heart ached so much as if it were broken into pieces.

On the day of my mother’s funeral, the line of people who attended was so long that it queued from one end of the village to the other. Besides relatives, there were my and my husband’s classmates, friends, colleagues, and neighbors from our neighborhood…. So many people, not only adults, but also kids. It was a rare grand scene in our village.

As the funeral line slowly marched out of the village, I vaguely heard some bystander asking, “Is this for a high ranking official? Or it may be a high ranking official’s parent...” My mother gave birth to one son and three daughters. We are all common folks, neither government officials nor wealthy business people. My mother herself was even more trivial like a nameless grass, never had any grand experiences, not even went to school to receive formal education. The only thing she had was a willing heart to love. And the last grand scene in her life was earned, unintentionally, by her lifelong generosity.

*1 mu is less than 1/6 acre
舍得 (To Gain is to Give) By: ZHAO Haining (赵海宁)  
Read Chinese version @ 琴台雨巷www.69311.net
Translation by: Xiaojuan Shu

July 6, 2017

Journals (2016)

January 31, 2016
My tendency to compare myself to "over-achievers" and then feel unworthy is gradually softening its grip over me because I ask myself: How could I be ashamed of an ever-unfolding mystery? -- a mystery that resides in me, and in you...

March 16, 2016
As I was meditating in this quiet log home, I realized that I don't believe in myself. Wow! "I don't believe in myself" is the foundation of all my fears and why I lack self-confidence. Can I learn to have faith in myself?

March 28, 2016, Tuesday Nevada City, CA
To accept my ordinariness with deep gratitude is the stepping stone to becoming extraordinary. Yet becoming extraordinary is not the goal; it's the natural result of humility.

April 12, 2016
My soul journey has led to the practice of radical patience.

April 25, 2016 (21-Day Reverence Challenge Day 1)
I am staying at a log home in the woods for acting in the play--Chinglish, which is produced by CATS (Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra) in Navada City in California. It's week 7, the last week of my staying. 

My host Ce bought this piece of land in her early 20s and built her dream log home in her 70s. She loves this land and takes ownership of it, though she does not have a green thumb as she said about herself. She loves watching deer family wandering outside her window. There is one  little frog in the pond in the corner of the front yard that her brother built for her (Later I found out there were more than one frog). She likes the frog which eats mosquitoes, but doesn't like the woodpeckers who ignore hundreds of trees around, and choose to peck on the wooden post below the back deck.

Ce told me how she and her brother began to buy this land in their 20s. They met the landowner many decades ago, and came to visit him. He encouraged them to buy part of the land and gave them a better deal ($700/acre) than he gave others, and they could pay it off by monthly installments. The other day, she showed us the album which kept her original drawing of her vision of her dream home, and the photos of the interior designs she found from magazines. 

This morning, I walked out of the back glass door to survey the property for the first time. It was a little chilly. I walked on the soft bed of pine leaves and hugged trees, listening to the birds chirping, while Ce was picking the little greens that she dislikes but grow every year on her property. I suddenly began to wonder: Can we really own a piece of nature even if we "bought" it? But it may not make much difference to Ce. Just look at the wonder and excitement on her face when she saw deer walking on her property!

I continued to hug trees. As I hugged with eyes closed, a wild bee buzzing on my hair, I swayed my head to get rid of it, my heart racing. But I wouldn't let this stop me from hugging trees and seeking a connection that I don't know if I could truly experience, that deep source of life... 

April 26, 2016
Communism, Capitalism, Environmentalism, so many isms divide us. How can we fully unleash human potentials without running out of control, such as pursuing individual pleasure and recognition at the cost of nature or other lives? Can we go through a collective inner transformation together? Are we awakening to this now? If not now, when?

April 27, 2016
Reading Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha (中国农民调查), tears streaming down with deepening thoughts, feeling grounded. Chinese peasants, I am your daughter. I know I have a role in serving you and I will continue to let it unfold.

April 28, 2016
"Perhaps the most profound reason for our intensely consumptive lifestyle is, at bottom, our fear of death. "You can’t take it with you," as they say – though you can try to numb the terror with the things that money can buy. But in his purposeful death by fasting at the age of 100, Scott Nearing demonstrated that there are better, simpler choices."

The end of a good life with no doctors and hospital: " In a soft voice, with no quiver or pain or disturbance he said 'All…right,' and breathed slower and slower and slower till there was no movement anymore and he was gone out of his body as easily as a leaf drops from the tree in autumn, slowly twisting and falling to the ground."

(Excerpt from At The End of A Good Life -- Scott Nearing's dignified death, life his life, sets an inspiring example for all of us, by Helen Nearing)

June 16, 2016
Excerpt from the conversation with Andy:
When people asks us a question like, "What do you do?" We don't have to address directly to the question. Because if we do respond directly, we might get lost in the mundane details of the other reality or struggle for proper words to describe our true aspiration without sounding preachy, then we might lose the opportunity to convey the message that we truly want to convey. We could strive to connect to our hearts at all time; just by doing that, we could transform every conversation we encounter with anyone at any moment. That's the ultimate right speech. What do I do? I'll address my service-oriented intention by focusing on what I can contribute to the everyday conversation at that moment. Love is the answer. Always!

Don't ignore or underestimate anyone or shun my light when I don't feel ignited to share. Just trust. Trust is the other key. :)

poem composed from two by an anonymous person:
I had a dream
That honeybees were making honey in my heart
Out of my old failures.
There is no right or wrong
Beyond the right and the wrong
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

July 27, 2016
A young woman was tracing the lines of the tree shadows on a piece of white paper under a tree. I stopped and she looked up, eyes lit up. She said she would use the pattern as a template in many creative ways. Then she appeared serious and still for a moment and said, sometimes, when she worked on the patterns, a face would show up so vividly. All she needed to do was to paint that face in her mind's eye.

July 29, 2016
(At Casa de Paz Awakin Oakland)
"May the inner peace that we've cultivated here in the past two hours ripple out of this window, onto the street, out of Oakland, the Bay Area, out of California, out of the place that's called the United States on the planet, across all four oceans, and reach all continents, connecting with other loving energy along the way, weaving an invisible web that will keep all life alive. With that, let's sit in silence with gratitude. At the end, I'll ring the bell." (from the Metta Seat)

August 5, 2016
(at Casa de Paz Awakin Oakland)
Hiromi shared the story about her grandma, who is 83. When she visited her some years ago, her grandma took her to the garden and pointed to the trees, said, "You planted those trees. Do you remember?" Hiromi didn't remember. She had been away from her hometown, studying and traveling to places far. She had forgotten that she had planted those trees when she was a child. Her grandma continued, "When I die, you do not need to remember me. Remember these trees that you've planted."

August 8, 2016
Last night in my dream, there was a small aquarium where there were many "moving shoes." Several boots were moving in water. The kids were curious why the boots could move. Then I saw a shellfish was struggling to get out of a sandal in vain. Then I realized that shellfish or some other small sea creatures were trapped in the boots. As they struggled to break free from the boots, they made the boots move. 

At the San Francisco Public Library, I found time watching this Chinese movie on how Chinese young people seek inner peace and walk out of the meaningless goal-oriented life despite all pressure to return to their original minds and to surrender to the fundamental questions again: Who am I? What is human? 

I was moved to tears and feeling so much peace hearing the song below(23:10):

油菜花开的季节 (马常胜)




August 9, 2016
Lessons learned from the house meeting at Casa de Paz:

  • Learn by observing and then doing it myself
  • Act with three steps ahead in mind. Be prepared.

  • Cultivate self-studying and problem-solving skills

  • Take advice and even criticism with peace and eagerness to improve without taking it personal. We are each other's mirror and take good use of that.

August 14, 2016
Biked with Andy to Tree's Free Farm Stand in San Francisco. Connected with a group of Chinese middle-aged women who grabbed food at the farm stand. They loved bitter melons!

August 15, 2016
Talked with Hiromi in the park not too far from Casa de Paz. Thankful for the time to connect with each other.

August 16, 2016
Went for a location scout with Ari, Pancho, and Sam. In an African-American community, kids were playing on the big open playground covered with plastic lawn surrounded by about 50 two-storied units. The sun, the open space, the curious kids gave a sense of openness and community. It reminded me of the traditional courtyard houses in Beijing, where neighbors could say hi to each other every day and kids play together. I was told these two adjacent apartment compounds were crime-laden. It's hard to believe in such a place love and innocence overflowing with kids running around laughing. What a thin line between the two sides of humanity.   

A little girl walked up to me, leaning against my legs and gestured for being picked up. I picked her up, so light, so soothing to hold her. It all happened so naturally. 

After community dinner, I had a conversation with Terry. He said, on the surface, our life seems to zigzag, but when you look back, there is only a straight line going closer to something. We then asked each other, “What’s your deepest longing?”

August 17, 2016
I had a dream last night:
A man enters my place when I am alone. He says to me with a smile, "I don't mind you carrying my child." He walks towards me and grabs my arms. I struggle to approach the door. My right hand tries to reach the door, and reach harder... I push the door open and use all my strength to shout for help. I see three kids, one of them, a teenage girl. I shout, "Call the police!" She instantly gets it and runs for the phone. 

My body relaxes. Then I feel sorry for this man, thinking of him being taken away by the police. I know that he came from another country and he will be deported if the police catches him. "Run!" I say. He pauses. "Run! You will be deported. Run!" I say. Tears appear in his eyes.  We hug before he runs away. 

September 1, 2016
"Let the voice inside always be louder than the words spoken."

June 7, 2017

My Ongoing Vegan Journey

I visit my family in China at least every other year. My mother always saves in the freezer the food that I’ve missed while I was gone, such as soybeans from spring, shrimp from summer, water chestnuts from previous fall, and the dumplings from the previous Chinese New Year’s dinner. “You were the only one who wasn’t home for the New Year. I’ve been waiting for you to come home and eat the dumplings; if you eat them, it would be as if you’d never left,” Mother said.

Last year Mother was very pleased that I would stay home for the New Year after being absent during the New Year for the past 12 years. But she and I struggled with my vegan diet because I had to reject many dishes that she had loved to make for me. It was also hard for my other relatives to understand: “How can you get enough protein?” “Vegan food is boring.” “Animals are to be eaten.” "Are you a Buddhist now?" 

One night after dinner, I asked my mother about the pigs that she used to raise and she told me a pig story that I will remember for as long as I live.

The Pig Story Mother Told
When I was a young child, every year my mother raised two pigs. At the end of each year, one pig would be sold to the market, the other would be kept for our family to eat. One year, my mother couldn’t find any baby pigs. It happened that she went to visit my aunt, whose neighbor just had newborn baby pigs. But there was only one female baby that was to give away. She usually liked to raise male pigs, but as she didn’t have a choice, she took the female baby pig home. (Let me call that pig Bai)

Bai only had a tiny place to live because my parents stored many things such as farming tools in her small roofed pigsty before she arrived at our home. But Bai kept her place very neat: eating area, sleeping area, and pooping area. The golden hay she slept on was always dry and clean, and she somehow made her poop stand up leaning against the wall near the poop hole. Being clean, Bai became my mother’s favorite pig. Whenever she fed Bai, she patted Bai on the back as Bai was eating with loud happy sound; Bai would look up to look into my mother’s eyes while chewing.

A year passed and the day came. The man from our village parked his tractor on the dirt road in front of our house. Bai was put in the back of the big tractor that would take her to a market in town. When the tractor began to move, Bai jumped off the moving tractor and ran back to my mother who was standing on the dirt road seeing her off. Bai rubbed her head against my mother’s leg as tears poured out of Bai’s big black eyes and wet her eyelashes. Mother patted her back and also cried.

As the tractor man was waiting, my mother got on the back of the tractor with Bai and patted Bai’s back all the way to the market. Bai rubbed against my mother and her tears wet my mother’s clothes.

At the market, Bai was weighted and herded together with other pigs. Her clean, white body stood out among other pigs. Mother was standing outside the fence as Bai was herded away. Bai kept looking back again and again, her clean back was blackened by the dirt from other pigs. Then she did another remarkable thing. She pushed away other pigs, walked against the herd, and somehow got out of the fence and ran towards my mother. She rubbed, for the last time, my mother’s leg with her head; tears kept pouring out of both of their eyes.

Bai was again taken away and being herded towards another place where my mother couldn’t see. As Bai was about to disappear from her eyes, my mother called. Bai turned her head to look for my mother as she was being pushed further and further away…. Outside the fence, my mother couldn’t stop sobbing.

My Meat Addiction
I grew up loving eating pork, including pig fat. I loved to put frozen white pig fat in my steamy hot rice and let the fat melt into rice.  I would finish a full bowl of rice without any interest in my chopsticks touching any other dishes on the table. I loved pork buns too. But my favorite dish was Grandpa’s red-cooked pork (braised pork in brown sauce). I loved it so much that I became so good at making the dish myself at age 12; one time Mother let me be the chef to make red-cooked pork when a relative visited us.

Visiting home from college, I was still sleeping in when Grandpa rode his bike from his house to knock at my parents’ door as he often did when I was in town. He walked into my room as I sat up in bed feeling a little upset that he had interrupted my sleep. “Come for lunch today! I’m going to make your favorite red-cooked pork!” Grandpa would say with a big smile on his face. “Come early!” He added before he left for the market to buy pig meat.

Pork, beef, chicken were the three kinds of meat that I ate the most. After coming to the US, I missed and craved for the homemade meat dishes. I lived in a suburban town north of the Golden Gate Bridge far from Chinatown, Chinese grocery stores, and Chinese friends. Whenever I visited a Chinese friend in the Bay Area, I would stuff myself with meat dishes until my stomach hurt. Whenever I went to Chinatown in San Francisco or Oakland, I always looked for pork buns and other various dim sums. Looking at steamy buns on the big bamboo steamer from outside the restaurant window, my eyes brightened. I swallowed before walking in the restaurant.

Bearing Witness of Animals’ Sufferings
Actually, I have my own crying pig story from childhood. I was about seven or eight years old. It was an extremely hot summer and our female pig became very ill. So my mother had to sell the pig several months earlier before the year-end. In the morning, a man from our village came with a flat wooden board on two wheels attached to the back of his bicycle. The pig was let out of the pigsty. To our surprise, without the man forcing her, the pig lay herself on the wooden board. I saw tears roll out of her big black eyes. I had never seen a pig cry before. Mother and I both stood there and cried. She asked me to go to the kitchen to get the pork bun that she had asked me to save for breakfast the next day. Mother put the bun, the best food in our home, on the wooden board next to the pig’s mouth. The pig didn’t move or sniff. She just lay on the board crying as the man was tying her up to the wooden board. The man rode his bicycle away with the pig in the back. I ran after the bike, eyes blurred by tears. I ran and ran until I couldn’t see the man and the pig anymore….

Besides pigs, I felt many other animals’ suffering too as I  grew up.

A dozen live geese were hung upside down with feet tied to the sides of the rear rack of a bicycle. One goose with the longest neck had to constantly lift its neck upward to avoid touching the moving road. Whenever it rested its neck lower, its neck struck the rough road and bled, and the goose moaned. The road ahead had no visible end; the goose kept trying to lift its head, upward, upward again, and again…. Its weakening moan lingered in my heart even after the bicycle was long gone. I was seven years old and missed my bus, walking home alone as dusk was darkening. I put my hand on the front of my neck as if it might bleed too. Soon, I felt as helpless as the long-necked goose, as the dark long way home kept unfolding ahead of me.

In front of a restaurant, a mother goat was tied to a bench and a small goat stood next to her. A man came out with a knife. He thrust the knife into the neck of the mother goat and she fell on the ground, violently struggling. The little goat knelt down and fell on the ground even before the man thrust the knife into its neck. Across the street from the restaurant, I was waiting for my bus after school, horrified by the slaughter scene.

I studied in a medical university in China for eight years and the daily casual cruelty to animals began to numb my heart. Near the end a laboratory class, one of my classmates injected air into a mouse’s blood vessel and the poor mouse ran frantically from one lab table to another until it dropped dead. Almost every day, walking out of the dim long hallway on my way to the dining hall, I passed by half-dead rabbits that piled in several small cages outside. The rabbits’ bloody bodies were still twitching, and the smell of their blood permeated the air. During my graduate studies, I witnessed more “normal” cruelty to animals: Rat’s heads were cut off alive with scissors. And, I experienced my own cruelty.

My Mouse-Killing Experiment in the Lab
In the second year of my graduate studies in the School of Public Health, I came up with a proposal to study the side effects of some environmental toxin on reproductive systems. White mice were the testing animals that we used most frequently in our lab. I wasn’t interested in the experiment or the graduate program I was in, but I kept pretending that I cared and did what I was supposed to do.

Every day for a month or so, I went to the animal house where the white mice were raised. I grabbed the tail of one mouse and put it in a small cage. At the lab, I killed the mouse by quickly separating its head from its body. A tiny sound later, the mouse would be soft, no more frantically trying to crawl away from me or bite me. Without any feelings, I cut open its belly….

Reconnecting and Reconciling with Animals
I had been a meat eater most of my life until about four years ago when I was taking a walk at a friend’s serene ranch. I passed by many cows grazing peacefully in the sun. The blue sky, the green grass, the soft sunlight, the rolling hills in the distance, and the calm gaze from the cows slowed down my steps and my mind. I paused for a long time to look at one cow looking into my eyes and I bowed. I bowed to that cow, bowed to all the cows, bowed to all the animals that I had eaten or harmed. I bowed and bowed and bowed with two palms together. I said to them: I don’t want to harm you anymore; I don’t want to eat you anymore.

The journey of reconnecting to all animals besides cats and dogs and reconciling how I feel about animals with what I eat has been a journey full of uplifting revelations and hopeless setbacks. After reducing and then not eating meat for four years, I realized one morning that I hadn’t had my decade long morning diarrhea for a while.

But it doesn’t mean that I no longer missed meat or justified myself to eat meat again. Sometimes I would fall back to eating meat when I saw someone that I admired for doing good work in the world eat meat, or when I had dinner in a loving community with a lived-a-good-life animal’s meat on the table, or when eating my mother’s dishes was the filial thing to do, or when I simply had the impulse to eat meat.

Over a year ago, I stayed at a friend’s house. I made it very clear to everyone that I ate vegan, but one day my hostess insisted that I try some organic chicken she just bought. I declined. Later in the afternoon, nobody was home. I sat there suddenly feeling restless--I wanted to try that chicken! My heart began to race. I opened the fridge door: There it was--the chicken! My heart was pounding harder. I took out one piece of chicken with my trembling hand and instantly closed the fridge. I walked to the window and listened to make sure nobody was coming back. I put the chicken in my mouth. It tasted so good that I went back for the second piece, and then the third. The whole time my heart was pounding hard and I was concerned that someone might see me, a dishonest vegan. But right then, after the third piece of chicken, I realized that I wasn’t that interested in eating chicken after all because the third piece began to taste bland and strange. Deep down I knew that, from that moment on, I would be free from desire of eating chicken.   

When I went to Chinatown, I still desired to eat pork for a while after I quit meat. Last year, before going back to China, I went to one of my favorite restaurants in Chinatown with a friend and ordered meat dim sums because they didn’t have vegetarian ones. I had one bite of the dim sum that had pork in it and, surprisingly, it tasted so bad. That killed my further desire for pork.

A Sad Story on a Dairy Farm
A couple of years ago, I was at The Pollination Project salon when the founder of Food Empowerment Project, Lauren Ornelas, gave a talk. She shared a story about a mother cow on a dairy farm, who hid one of her twin calves behind a rock and went to breastfeed the calf every day secretly. The farm staff noticed that the cow’s milk output was low and one day followed the cow and found the hidden calf. When Lauren played for us the audio recording of the mother cow and the calf echoing each other’s calling as the calf was taken away, I was gripped by such a deep sadness that I couldn’t stop crying during the rest of the talk.

My Ongoing Journey
These experiences have increasingly made me reflect deeply why I have such strong feelings for animals, despite that I’ve tried to numb or deny those feelings in me. Those feelings are natural! My connection with animals is an innate quality that I experience when my heart is free, open, and connected. It is a constant reminder that we are all connected. I want to honor that connection as I began to understand why there are so many love warriors who dedicate their lives to animals' welfare around the globe.

The other wonderful benefit that I gained from stopping eating meat and dairy products is my revived interest in cooking. Beginning in high school, I lost interest in cooking and lost confidence even in helping in the kitchen. I was considered a hopeless cook by those who were close to me in the past. Now, I feel creative in the kitchen realm again! With chopped zucchini, carrots, kale, mushrooms and beans, I could make a delicious quinoa dish!

With the practice of taking only what I need, I also have a chance to look at my other insatiable desires in food every day. Walking through grocery stores, I feel more freed than before from my old cravings for meat and many heavily spiced snacks, including vegan cheese and kale chips. At a Chinese vegan restaurant, I don’t need to order fake meat to gratify me. With occasional giving-ins to my cravings, I begin to enjoy simple food more and my taste buds are gradually coming back to their natural sensitivity.

Mother’s Cooking
“If you were a pig, that would be your fate,” Mother said in tears after she told me Bai’s story. I was already crying uncontrollably while listening to the story. For three days, I found myself continuously weeping in my closed bedroom as I kept seeing so vividly Bai’s tearing eyes looking back at my mother as she was herded further and further away…. 

Tears and heartaches helped awake me to reconnecting with animals. Asking animals for forgiveness is the first step, and I'm determined to change, starting from educating myself about the harm we do to animals, stopping harming animals, knowingly or unknowingly, and changing what I eat and how I live every day.

Eating vegan at home with my family in China was very difficult in the beginning. But after weeks of struggle, my 
mother began to buy various kinds of vegetables. She said each vegetable was 

unique and gave us different types of strength. But sometimes, I could still detect chicken broth in the vegetable dishes she made. When questioned, she said it was all vegetables. :) But I was amazed by my mother’s ability to adapt. Within a couple of months, she discovered more and more vegan dishes that she could make. She began to fall in love with the vegan restaurant near where she lives and brought back booklets on healthy vegan eating to give away to her family, friends, and acquaintances. She herself reduced dramatically her meat consumption--this is what I had sought because of her high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When my father and mother returned home late from visiting a relative far away, I would cook them a simple vegan meal. Looking at them eating the meal I prepared was one of the happiest moments in my life as a daughter. 

Related documentary films: Earthlings, Cowspiracy and more.
A child's commitment: "I don't want to eat animals!"