Living in the Masters’ House

The queer Black feminist poet and thinker Audre Lorde famously said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Thirty years after I first heard that, I can’t claim to understand it from my non-Black, non-Lesbian perspective, but I am starting to realize the importance of the question she raises.

We totally live in the masters’ — I moved the apostrophe because there are many masters — house, or more accurately, the house the masters have built for us. You look out the window, and you see exactly what the masters want you to see. A world of fear, full of terror, of scarcity and constant competition for necessities.

Audre Lorde

From the masters’ house, we see a world in which some people count and most don’t, and animals and plants never do. A world in which we are inadequate, and isolated, where we are constantly prodded to medicate our stress and suffering by consuming. We may medicate with an actual drug, or it might be material success, travel, food, cars, porn, or clothes, or whatever, but we are not to look at what’s causing the depression and anxiety.

You turn on the news or the Net, and you see war everywhere, environmental destruction and misery. We are ruled by corrupt leaders, hired by a class of obscenely wealthy, extremely powerful men whose identities we barely know.

You can escape by watching professional gladiators combat each other in sports arenas, or amateurs humiliate themselves on reality TV. You see or hear “news” that is actually a series of scripted stories, whose reality we may doubt, but which we have no way to investigate. That is the world we live in; that is the masters’ house, a nightmare that isn’t even our own.

Not where we want to live

The masters’ house lives inside of us, too. The isolation, the scarcity, the helplessness, the fear we feel are part of the masters’ house. The master is living in our minds and in our bodies and causing us to do all sorts of things that strengthen him, while harming ourselves, our loved ones and our world.

The master perhaps cannot help himself, because he is living in that same house, just on a different floor. We’re all in different rooms in the same house. Look: Giant gold mines operate in Peru. Thousands of indigenous people have had to flee their ancestral land, either at gun point or because the mines use up and pollute their water. They cling to life among the dispossessed in the cities. Maybe some have started to deal drugs or work as prostitutes.

This catastrophe didn’t just happen: various kinds of people did this to the natives. First, they had to find the gold. Geologists and engineers found it, because that is their job and they are isolated from the people being harmed. If they feel any guilt, they can buy stuff to feel better. That’s the house they live in.

Bankers had to finance the mines. They did this because making more money, in whatever way, is vital to their survival in their mental house. It couldn’t have been a belief that the world needed more gold. There’s plenty of gold.

Because the gold is not concentrated enough to dig out profitably, the mining companies scoop up tons of dirt in trucks and treat it with cyanide and other chemicals to leach out the gold. Someone had to figure out how to do that. Those someones felt disconnected from the Earth and people they were poisoning. They thought they didn’t live in that house, but they do, though the masters own it.

Ordinary workers operate those trucks and those leaching plants. They don’t want to, but in the masters’ house, they “need” the pay to survive. That’s how life in the masters’ house works.

Outside the Masters’ House

Can such a huge house, all around us and within us, be dismantled? What tools could possibly accomplish that, and where would we get them? If we somehow dismantled the house, where would we live?

When told that he couldn’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, activist and professor Robert Jensen replied, “I’ll use whatever tools I want to use.” And Derrick Jensen (no relation,) wrote, “Whoever wrote that you couldn’t use those tools had obviously never dismantled a house, or built one.”

Some tools, though, clearly do belong to the master and cannot be used against his house. Elections come to mind here. Democracy may have been everyone’s tool at one point, but in the modern USA, elections are controlled by corporate media, corporate parties, lobbyists, unelected bureaucrats and spies. Lorde said of such tools, “They may allow us temporarily to beat the master at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell to whom a tool belongs. Are guns the master’s tools? They seem to be, but at times in history the people have used them to dismantle their masters’ house.

Audre Lorde said that art and community were two vital tools women (her audience for this talk) could use. Truth-telling is another. Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone says “The entire machine of oppression is held together by narrative. By made-up stories. By fairy tales for adults. Those who insist that there is no hope are living in [the masters’] fantasy world.” A truer narrative might cause it to fall.

When we stop believing the master’s lies, we can move out of his house and make a new one for ourselves. How can this be done when the masters’ lies are projected at us 24/7 in dozens of technologies and platforms, what CIA official Frank Wisner called his “Mighty Wurlitzer,” on which he could play any propaganda tune? No matter how creatively we project a more truthful reality, how can people see it, act on it, and not get shot for doing so? Or to win, even if we do get killed in the process?

If those tools have been found, I haven’t heard about them, though art and solidarity are certainly two of them. Audre Lorde said turning differences into strengths is crucial. She thought words could be powerful tools and encouraged women to use them, and to nurture each other.

Will these tools be enough? They haven’t been so far, but while developing more tools, at least we can teach ourselves to see the house for what it is, a gaudy prison, one based on illusion and fear more than on real walls. We can get out; we can bring it down. Keep speaking up.

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When the World Gifts You, Watch Out!

“Good advice is sure enough hard to come by. Bad advice surrounds you constantly.” Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson “Under the Hammer

Be careful about taking unsolicited advice, no matter how well-intentioned or well-informed. Six months ago, I got some expert advice about my wheelchair. Following it has cost me all kinds of money and time and led to some major property destruction. I hope you don’t need wheelchair experience to appreciate this story.

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Message from the Gods: You Can. Just Don’t!


                                                          High Technology in Chuang-Tzu’s day

It’s not easy being a god. Everybody wants something from you, but does that mean they should have it? Most of us have seen in our own lives that wanting things and getting them can have harmful effects. The things we want are not always good for us or worth the price.

So, what’s a god to do, especially if they want the best for their creations?

That was Prometheus’ problem. The Greek Titan, whose name means “forethought,” was one of the race of gods that came before Zeus and the gang from Mount Olympus. When Zeus took over, he assigned Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus the job of creating life on Earth.

Prometheus literally sculpted the human race out of clay. We are his children. He fell in love with us.

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Five Times Denial is Good for You

Being in denial has a bad rap. You want someone to change, but they don’t admit they have a problem. There must be something wrong with them.

Is denial really such a bad thing, though? If you deny a self-destructive habit, you could cause serious harm to yourself or others.  Drunk driving would be a classic example.  But in other situations, denial can be good for you.

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What Does God Taste Like?

I’m a little old for First Communion, but it was a powerful experience, so I’m sharing it.  Here’s how it happened.

One Sunday in December, I attended the annual conference of Friends of Sabeel, a Christian coalition supporting Palestinian rights. It was held at St. John’s Presbyterian, a gorgeous church in San Francisco with beautiful stained-glass windows and an arching cathedral ceiling. The meeting was preceded by the church’s religious service.

I got there near the end of the service, in time for the Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist.  I had heard all my life about communion, but I have never understood it or partaken of it before.

Four women held baskets of bread and bowls of juice in the four corners of the chapel. People lined up to take a piece of bread and dip it in the juice.  When I reached the front of the line, the woman holding the basket said, “This is the body of Christ.  This is the sacrifice he made.” (I’m not sure I heard that last sentence correctly. There are different versions. But it was something like that.)

I had read about Catholic communion, which is pretty much the same thing. Some believe the actual body of Jesus is “transubstantiated” into the bread and wine. It’s sometimes called The Lord’s Supper, after what Jesus is reported to have said at his last supper with his disciples, “This bread is my body, given for you. This cup is my blood, poured out for you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

Others think communion is a symbol, an affirmation that worshippers are united in Christ. Not really being part of that community, I didn’t know what to think.

So, I was surprised when I got the bread and heard her words, and tasted the bread, I felt like a light was shining on me.  I understood, without thought, that every time we eat or drink, we are literally eating God’s body, of which the Earth and everything on it, including us, are part.

Everything we eat is a gift from God, coming to us from the Sun, through the Earth. The blood sacrifice is real too: for almost everything we eat, someone gave up their life. And all those lives, plant and animal, are part of God, in the same way that we are.

That may not be a mainstream Christian belief, but it is central to most Eastern religions and to mystical traditions everywhere. God and the Universe are the same thing.

The Eucharist - photo by Robert Cheaib

The Eucharist – photo by Robert Cheaib

I wonder why we can’t celebrate communion every time we eat, then.  According to the Christian website Compelling Truth, The Apostle Paul said to remember Christ every time we eat bread or drink wine, but he also warned against just going through the motions. It should be a proper ceremony.

Some Christians believe you can only do communion in a church; or at least with an ordained minister. Most say you have to focus on Christ while you’re tasting the bread.  So far, I’m not including others in a ceremony, but I do think of Communion before I start and as much as possible during a meal.

I sometimes think, ‘This is what God tastes like.’   Some people might think that’s weird, or even that I’m being blasphemous. It doesn’t feel that way to me; it’s an act of worship. It makes me stop to appreciate food and all our gifts more.

I find that preceding each meal, or each bite, with ‘This is the body of Christ’ vastly increases my sense of the gift that food is. It’s not just giving thanks; it’s joining with the food, all of us being part of the same wholeness, with its constant birth and death, killing and being killed. It’s an endless dance, and Communion keeps me in touch with the wonder, grief, and beauty of it all.

I don’t know if I’ll return to church, but I probably need to go somewhere. Taking these ceremonies and beliefs away for their contexts and communities is probably missing much of the power of them. I also plan to continue tasting God in my food until the World tells me to stop. Maybe you will, too.

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How Lucky Are You?

I calculate that I am among the luckiest 2% of humans who have ever lived. Check this list and see where you stack up.

  1. I have always had food, a decent apartment, and a comfortable bed. How many can say that?
  2. I have never been physically abused or traumatized, at least not that I can remember.
  3. I get paid for doing something (writing) that I love to do.
  4. By world historical standards, I’m super rich. I’m a middle-class person in a rich country, of a relatively privileged appearance and gender. I get support from Social Security. Our technology and standard of living is so far above what even royalty had 100 years ago that no one from back then cracks the top 2%.
  5. I can see movies from around the world, hear music from around the world, read books and essays from around the world. How fortunate to have access to all this wonderful stuff that, not long ago, would have required a lifetime of travel and a top 1% level of expense. If there even was such a thing as Bhutanese cinema back then.
  6. Ordinary people travel more than the elites of the past could have dreamed. Travel isn’t a big turn-on for me, but it’s been great to have it available when I need or want to.And then, I live in San Francisco, where the whole world comes anyway. I don’t have to go to them; they come to me. In my city, the food of the world is available any time I want it. There are not one, but tens of cultural events almost every day.
  7. The Bay area also seems immune to global warming. It’s still always in the 50s and 60s here in summer, while most other places are burning up. Don’t know how long that will last, but it’s always comfortable where I live, though more sunshine feel good.

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The Animals Are Trying to Save Us

“People talk about saving the animals. But really the animals are trying to save us.”  Adelia Sandoval, San Francisco 2015

What did this Native American healer mean?  How could animals save people, and why would they want to?

Adelia Sandoval

Adelia Sandoval

Some believe that animals are indeed out to help us, and we should pay attention to them. Understanding the human-animal connection could tell us a lot about who we are. It could help us heal ourselves and our planet.

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Beautiful – or at least interesting – Thoughts

Wisdom and inspiration are all around, peeking out from behind the reeds.. Here are ten thoughts that came to me in just the last two months from books or on the Internet. Some are from famous people; others just ordinary folks on social media.

  1. Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on.” – Linda Dilworth

When you see someone who is old, or disabled, or in poverty or crazy, that is not their whole story.  Often, if we knew the whole story, we would be amazed and moved.

  1. “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”– Edith Wharton.

We don’t always feel up to spreading light in the world, but we can reflect the light of others. I guess I’m doing that here.

  1. “If you search everywhere, yet cannot find what you are seeking, it is because what you seek is already in your possession.”– Lao-Tzu.

That’s what all the teachers say. You only find wisdom and enlightenment when you stop looking and realize they’re already within you. I don’t think this is actually something Lao-Tzu wrote, though. Someone else came up with this phrasing and attributed it to Lao to get more attention. Why do we need an authority figure to validate our own wisdom?

  1. “Worse than telling a lie is spending your whole life staying true to a lie.” – Robert Brault.

Yes! Most of us are living not just one lie, but a whole bunch we’ve been told by society, about who we are and what our life is supposed to be. When you realize the truth about yourself, your whole life opens up.

  1. “How do we know our fear of death isn’t like the fear of a youth who has run away from home and now can’t find his way back?” Chuang-Tzu.

It could be that the part of us that dies is the part that feels all the pain, and what is left will be blissful. Of course, we have no way to know, but that’s why I say, we all go to Heaven when we die. And if you practice, you can get to Heaven while you’re alive.

  1. “Wherever you have friends, that’s your country. Wherever you receive love, that’s your home. Whoever gives you love, that’s your parent.” – Tibetan saying.

As quoted by the Dalai Lama.

  1. “We are all fragile creatures. And it is because of that weakness, not in spite of it, that we discover the possibility of true joy.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I need to think about this one some more. I have found that as I become physically weaker, I have more access to joy, but I’m not sure that’s what he means.

  1. “The problem with assumptions is we never know we’re making them” – Robin di Angelo.

Once you’ve got a belief, it changes your perception of the world to reinforce itself. We start with different beliefs and pretty soon we have different facts to support them. You’ll never know you’re seeing the world through a questionable assumption unless you ask. Keep questioning your beliefs.

  1. “The most beautiful people are those who have known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths…Beautiful people do not just happen.”― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Is this you? When you’re suffering, remember where it might be taking you.

  1. “We are all creative. We are creations ourselves and live in an inherently creative universe. Creativity is our natural state.” – Shiloh Sophia

This is definitely you.  Don’t hold yourself back.

If you’re willing, please share cool thoughts that have come into your life.

Good News!  Book 3 of The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the Road to Wellness, is now available at almost all e-book retailers.  It’s called The Book of Letting Go and has seven powerful stories of different kinds of acceptance, forgiveness, nonattachment, nonjudgment, emotional and physical release. Wisdom comes from sources including Sufism, Taoism, the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, and the Bible, among others.

At Smashwords (Set your own price)  Or at most other e-book retailers. Search for The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the Road to Wellness. Book 3: Letting Go

See at Kindle, $2.99



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Water Spirit Rising

“Nothing in the world is as soft, as weak, as water.
Nothing else can wear away the hard, the strong
and remain unaltered.
Soft overcomes hard
Weak overcomes strong.
Everybody knows it
Nobody uses the knowledge.”

Lao-Tzu, Chapter 78

“We are water. ”
Saying of the Standing Rock Sioux

Something important is happening, and you are part of it. The Sioux at Standing Rock, North Dakota, are protecting water, and it is a battle of mythic dimensions. It’s like the Ramayana or Lord of the Rings. It’s Mordor vs. Middle Earth, money power vs. people power, wealth and weapons against love and solidarity.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) threatens the water supply of 18 million people, starting with the Sioux.  American megabanks have each invested hundreds of millions of dollars in DAPL. Militarized police are pushing it through. The pipeline represents the force of world capital and militarism, oil and money, arrayed against Earth and a courageous group of Natives who won’t back down, who react only with prayer and love.


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Happy Gratitude Day

Picture this scene. I’m sitting at my laptop at my desk in an apartment in San Francisco.  I’m sick and don’t feel up to going anywhere, but I have energy to write. How many separate things are happening that I can be thankful for in this very moment?

This chair is nice. I’m comfortable.

I’m not in pain right now.

Had a lunch of kale stew and leftover dressing from Thanksgiving dinner. It was good.

I have a working laptop computer.

I have electricity to power it.

I have Internet service.

I have a warm apartment to live in.

Thankful to have money to purchase those things.

The sun is shining in the window.

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