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Mar 30, 2006

Dear People,

I just got home, a bit chilled and damp, from standing in front of UC Berkeley's Boalt Law School . I'm glad I went because, given spring break and the weather (25th day of rain this month), we were even fewer than usual at our weekly vigil and teach-in. My friend Sue Moon, editor of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's journal Turning Wheel, was the one this time to stand on the sidewalk on a narrow box and wear a black cape and hood, with wires suspended from her wrists. And today David Sylvester, ex-reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, took the role of teacher before he spends three months in prison for trespassing at the infamous School of the Americas .

The teach-in is about the Bush administration's openly defended policy of torture. It is held at the law school here because John Yoo, the legal architect of that policy, is one of its professors.

Each time I take part I learn a lot. Sometimes the information I harvest enters my dreams, and I awaken sickened with grief and dread. What are we as a nation doing to ourselves? What is in store for us--as perpetrators or, scarier yet, as dissenters? One morning, to pull myself together, I wrote a kind of prayer.

I am given to know
what my mind cannot hold.
So I give my mind
to what it cannot know,
the deep dark cradle of its being.

Here are some things I learned today. That the hooded torture victim, whose image is sadly familiar by now, tries to keep his arms extended sideways because lowering them delivers a strong electric shock. The posture this method enforces causes the victim to feel partly responsible for the agony that comes when he can no longer sustain it. Sophisticated torture methods, such as those taught at the School of the Americas , add to the physical pain the psychological pain of failure and self-blame. That is obviously the case as well with the many forms of humiliation being invented and, automatically now, employed.

I learned that John Yoo's arguments for the necessary freedom to use torture are based again and again and again on that fateful event that justifies everything. 9/11 ushered us into a new world where old rules no longer apply. Confronting a ubiquitous and elusive enemy, national security requires for its protection a "single, rational actor" a "unitary" executive, unencumbered by outmoded constitutional and legislative constraints.

On the brighter side, I learned that our Uruguayan friend Andres, who spoke at an earlier vigil, has been successful in his mission. He left two weeks ago with an anti-torture delegation to meet with government leaders in Bolivia , Uruguay , and Argentina ; and David reported today that in each capital agreement was reached to no longer send military personnel to be trained at the School of the Americas . Andres Conteris is a student in the course that I'm teaching at California Institute of Integral Studies. We will surely celebrate when he gets back.

That course, full day sessions on Fridays, meets tomorrow, and I must stop now to prepare. Its subject is the changing human experience of Time. Co-teaching it with Sean Kelly of the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program, I am enjoying the scope it gives me to indulge my fascination with this subject. The need to look afresh at our relation to time and expand our temporal context first arose for me as an essential challenge of nuclear waste--a karma, or consequence of actions, that extends into the future for thousands and even millions of years. Deep time practices have long been a rewarding component of the Work That Reconnects, and I was ready to view the subject through a more academic lens.

I've relished the agile-minded students and my sweet, learned co-teacher, but I've missed some of the depth, flow, and coherence that arise when discussions are embedded in experiential and ritual work. Inserting the occasional exercise doesn't do it. For example, our class sessions on acceleration of time--on the speed and hurry produced by nanotechnology and growth economics--revealed a surprising amount of grief. And it has been hard (ironically) to let it work itself through within the confines and tempo of our curriculum.

Tomorrow's class is about "integral" time, where time is not objectified or externally measured, but retrieved as an internal factor or function of the living self. Not something you have, but something you are. Like Zen master Dogen's teaching of "Being Time."

But the clock above my desk shows an externally measured hour that will allow precious little preparation or sleep, if I don't sign off now.