Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Zen Practice.

In 1986 I joined the Zen Group of Western Australia. This meant meditating with the group as close to weekly as possible, making a Zen retreat or Sesshin almost yearly and the daily practice of Zazen (meditation).
This has been my spiritual practice my Way or Tau since then. My first teacher was the respected and remarkable Robert Aitken Roshi who came from the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu to assist Zen students and incipient teachers in Australia.
John Tarrant Roshi from California also returned to his native Australia to lead Sesshins here on several occasions which I attended. 
Ross Bolleter, musician, composer and music teacher was authorized to teach in 1992 by John Tarrant, and received transmission from Robert Aitken and John Tarrant in 1997. He has taught extensively in Australia and New Zealand and has successors in both places.
When I moved to NSW in 2001 Ross was still my teacher and I had telephone Docksan (Interview with the teacher) fairly regularly.
This year I visited my teacher Ross in Perth and he recommended I contact the Sydney Zen Group and teacher Gillian Coote. 

I visited and meditated with the Sydney group at their place in Annandale.
Then I enrolled for the spring Sesshin this month at their retreat center Gorrick's Run on the McDonald River out from  Wiseman's Ferry. The Sydney people led by architect Tony Coote built the meditation hall, teacher's residence, kitchen, dormitory toilets and shower block over thirty years.

On the opening evening I said that I was both excited by the opening world of Sesshin while also apprehensive of the pain and frustration which accompanies intensive growth work. And thus it panned out, though I felt held and supported by the members of the Sangha (group[) and the practices which structure the Sesshin day such as chanting, meal rituals, walking meditation and visiting the teacher. It is strange how so much which happens in silence has such effect.
I am grateful to the group of fellow students and  to Gillian Coote and Maggie Gluek for the strength and authenticity of their teaching and their cutting away of non essentials so that there was just one focus point.
Sydneh Harbour stone Buddha in Paddock.
Zendo Meditation Hall
Spring Sesshin 2017

Sunday, 28 May 2017

John Warhurst on Church reform

John is an intelligent and credible Political Scientist. Here I wish to further the discussion he invites about reforming the Catholic Church in Australia. The approach needs to be radical and systemic.

An organization like a good building needs to have a form which supports and enhances its function. From follows function. So what is the function of the Catholic Church? What kind of form does it need and need to fund to progress the message of Christ? What do the members of the organization need to advance their spiritual lives? What form do reformist Catholics need to embrace to do what? And if there is something wrong it is a good idea not to make changes without adequate diagnosis.
A couple of observations or questions from one who has worked with organizational structures and cultures for several decades.
Anyone ever thought of asking a bishop if he says his prayers? What has been the effect in a secular world of the vacuum where genuinely spiritual matters ought have had primacy? And no I do not mean dogmatic, or scripture study, or moral reflections. Certainly not prayers of petition. I mean sharing and learning from the great tried and true spiritual traditions many of which surround Australia in our Asian setting.
What would happen if the structure gave first place to The New Testament and those best able to support it and leave the bureaucratic structure to managers? Does ordination confer any special administrative skills? So the bishop could be the dogmatic/spiritual/prayerful leaders of an area and with a lay management system.

Why do Australian Catholics imagine in their widest dreams that the the Hierarchic cadre which have mismanaged can have some remarkable change of hearts, skills and investments in their egos to now turn around and exercise leadership reform? They have had the blueprint from Vatican ii for years and been tardy or reactive.
Why, especially when the Pope has invited Catholics to experiment with change not try a few things? E.g. invite divorced people to come to communion, if a priest wants to get married let him announce his intentions and see if the community still want him as their pastor and on and on. The Pope knows enough about organizations and the Vatican not expect change from the center. He knows as organizational experts know that much change comes from the periphery.
And finally, I find it remarkable that Catholics, now that the Royal Commission has put the hierarchy and provincials in the stocks in the village square and shamed them that the laity throw stuff of their own. Some form of distancing? The laity  have been slavishly obedient, colluded with bad decisions,(administrative, managerial, financial, political, cultural and educational) seen their leaders punished by quisling informers to Rome. They have winged to one another but supine in their confrontation of the offending cleric who was the more appropriate target of their complaint, since the formation of the colony. Few have ever walked out of an offensive sermon. It was not just the clergy, but teachers, coppers, parents, lawyers and judges who managed the cover ups of abuses. No, if the laity wish to operate with integrity they must acknowledge their complicity, their collusion in corrupting the body which needs reform. That would put them on a more humble footing with the clerics they now want to change and leadership in the acknowledgment of the sinfulness of us all.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Still missing some points? Catholic reform?
This is a fairly long speech. It is from an expert, however there are two problems which I address in my response.
OK Francis Sullivan knows more than most about this matter and has had to be a front man conduit for so much criminal dysfunction. Corruptio optimi;pessimum. He makes sense in this speech and his blueprint for the future looks good. However the question is are there now any or enough people of initiative, who have not already left the in the church, to do anything about the mess. Most it seems have given away so much power for so long in childlike dependency on the clergy and hierarchy that they will be unable manage or work around the authorities appointed in the last few years by reactionary Vatican officials.
One serious omission in this and other ecclesiastical matters is spirituality. Most of what was said or taught bout prayer followed the same dependency dynamic as you would expect from a bovine; sheep and shepherd leadership. The spiritual development of the person was about faith, morals and dogma. None of this is necessarily spiritual. Australia sits in Asia which has several rich spiritual traditions of meditation and spiritual development. Learning from these might be a way to reform from the inside out.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Vale George Madaus.

George Madaus died on December 18 2016 aged 82. His career and works are better described than I could manage in an article to which I linked on Facebook.
George, though internationally famous as a researcher and publisher in the area of testing and evaluation was a wonderfully approachable and helpful mentor. 
Would that I had met him at a time in my life when I was less troubled, leaving the Jesuits after 20 years therein and suffering major culture shock. I was far from the well balanced grad student
When I arrived in Boston in August 1972, just as Nixon was declaring he knew nothing about Watergate, I knew no one and was at a loss to make sense of my chosen university and its structures. Somehow George got a message to me that I should contact him. He invited me to his home in Needham. He had a remarkable knowledge of Irish and Australian folk music, but wanted to know more. 
The family dog "Broccoli" was an endless source of merriment for George as Broccoli seemed to defy all known learning theory. George enjoyed collecting and passing on jokes. He always had one at the ready. 
He introduced me to the Centre for Field Research and Services to Schools. He was responsible for my getting a job there teaching a course in Foundations of Education for 400 students more than I could have imagined.
Though only a year older than me he seemed older as an elder at Boston College and was a major figure on the campus. He knew almost everyone and was respected by them. 
During a summer vacation I had a job driving a school buss for a children's summer camp. George lent me his car for the summer enabling me to get to and from work and other places.
George engaged a luthier to help him make a hurdy gurdy and invited me to tag along  as I worked building a dulcimer in his basement.
When I told him I was leaving the Jesuits he urged me to enroll immediately in the doctoral programme. He knew I had to eat, get clothed and get a roof over my head and what better meal ticket than a doctorate. He used say, "A few dollars and a PhD will get you a cup of coffee." As part of the entry into the doctoral programme I had to sit an exam in the Millers Analogy test. I was not happy with my mark. When I told George he told me he too had received that mark.
Knowing my gra for Irish music and lifestyle he helped me get a fellowship in Dublin in the Education Research Centre at St Pat's Drumcondra. This was several good things rolled into one. A job in Ireland which after America was bliss. It was an opportunity to work on a landmark international education research study into standardized testing where, as tests were introduced into the Irish system it was possible to pre-test, test and then test the effects on the nation. And I could travel around the country chasing the music and drinking Guiness. George put me up at his own apartment in Howth until I got some accommodation; my own first living space.
By this time George was working  in Ireland full time. 
George and Tom Kellegan the director of the Research Centre were busy setting up the study we were working on. It was complex with six funding bodies in Ireland and the USA. Schools had to be chosen across the country. Some existed in name only some had moved address. It was like looking for several needles in several haystacks using medieval maps. Staff had to be hired for field work. As well a large repository had to be found for the monumental stacks of tests to be stored after completion, return and correction. This turned out to be All Hallows College, a disused diocesan seminary where several  priests who went to the Bathurst Diocese were trained. I had worked with them in Australia. It was strange seeing pictures of these chaps as young men along the cloister walls as we lugged bundles of tests in and out of the ghostly building. 
I was learning to be an employee. I was a slow learner and a bolshie one as well.
George and I clashed as did others in these days getting the research structured and running. Despite my brashness and probably a feeling that the hand he had offered to feed me was being bitten George hung in there and we still shared jokes and Irish music. He took up the concertina.
He loved working songs like "School days over come on then John" Luke Kelly's version. Or "Fiddler's Green" a fisherman's end of days song. These were worlds away from his professorial seat, but he loved their humanness.  
Dear George is probably the most internationally renowned person I have known, though not greatly known outside his field or America or Ireland. 
Just one final George story. Danny Burke (not his real name) was born in Bandon Co Cork he had studied with the Holy Ghost Fathers to go to the African Mission. He left the order and came to America to find a job in construction work.  Somehow he was working on George's house doing some renovations. George convinced him that a degree was a better meal ticket than labouring. When I met Danny he had completed a bachelor's degree, a masters and was finishing his doctorate. George inspired him, got him going and kept an eye on him and his career in education internationally. George saw what that young lad could not see at the time and showed him the way.
There are several ironies about learning. One is that when the student is ready the teacher arises. Another is that you have to begin where the learner is in themselves. On reflection I experienced and leaned both with George.
George was a significant person in my life. Would that I had been a more gracious student and protegee. None the less I am in part what he made me.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Robertson a bright future vision.

Robertson a bright future vision.

What kind of Robertson? What kind do you want to live in? To die in? For your grandchildren?
         “This could be the start of something great” as the song says. It could be the start of a discussion or dialogue about our future, the future of the place we live in. But really is just part of a discussion many people in Robertson have a lot of the time.
So I’d like to put forward a piece of the future picture. Firstly, I know I’m just part of an ongoing discussion between locals more experienced than I am about the town. ( See last paragraph) So with some trepidation here goes.
I would like Robertson to be a community, a place where we include others and support one another. No not in some sickly sweet do gooder way, just an Aussie way of looking out for one another. I would like to end my days here, at home, not in a nursing home where I would not live longer; just die longer.
So often I have heard of “children”, adults who have to pack their parents away because they cannot be looked after here. But they could stay here with greater quality of life connected with relatives and friends if there were services to cater for them (us).
We would need smaller places to live. Preferably, this could be within walking, hobbling distance to the shops. Shops where we could get a coffee or a beer and shops where we could meet others, young and old.
What would need to happen to make Robbo such a place? Good medical services-we have these and the service here could specialize in the care of older souls and bodies. Students could come here to specialize in the care of the elderly. The elderly are a growing group, a larger proportion of the Australian population than ever before. So even commercially there is a growing market for services to the elderly.
The Robertson Doctor, currently gives us an enviable and affordable series of services and not just for our bodies, our minds, emotions and souls.
Carers will need care themselves and support and respite as part of the team looking after older people.
There would, probably, be a series of teams of differing mixes of skills for different people. That work needs coordination to provide the best mix of resources of the family and friends.
There would need be catering, cleaning, gardening, transport and purchasing services slightly different from those available now.
All this would mean jobs and meaningful work for younger people and older retired professionally trained careers. Those starting their work lives could start while living here, rather than in the isolation of a city.
I would need somewhere to walk, to swim, to exercise. And what a place we have for this.  How many people even in Australia have such wonderful places to stroll, walk and be nurtured by the scenery? For me the bush is a place to restore my spirit, my soul, to link with ever changing, growing nature. The Council is working on more and varied walks around and between villages. See Facebook: Tracks and Trails of Wingecarribee.
Probably in a smaller house I would not have my own workshop/shed. But I would still have a need to make things, to fix things for us and others. So a community shed would be great. Likewise a community garden where we cold grow some stuff and learn about gardening with others would be a treasure. I have often thought that Robertson could grow its own vegetables and fruit on our rich soil verges. After all we do not eat grass and you don’t have to mow potatoes.
An exciting challenge for all this is to think differently about the whole community and to be flexible so as to learn from successful examples, newer ways and to admit that we do not have all the answers.
These are sketchy ideas, part dream, part imagined wants and needs. However, I know I am not the only one to develop these dreams to grow, plant and nurture them and link them with others. Then there is the matter of sharing them with the Council to ensure future appropriate building regulations, block sizes and services.
So I throw out these ideas, these bits in the hope that others will pick up bits to form a mosaic, a common dream for our future.
As I write this over a coffee at Moonrakers three men are discussing ideas to improve our town, so the discussion goes on in all kinds of ways.
It’s Robertson; Smile and Wave.
Michael D. Breen       Thursday, 13 October 2016

Monday, 19 September 2016

Our Robertson Our Future.

Our Robertson our future.

Do you think much about Robertson? Where are we in the world now? What is our future? How can we ensure we get the kind of place we want to live, now and into the future?
These are a few thoughts about these matters, which are of concern to us whether we notice or care, or not.
         Robertson is made of differences, as different as rainforest and spuds. Or as different as the weather on a Robbo day. There are long timers, old timers, new comers and those who would like to lodge here.
         We sit in a framework, we are not a self-sufficient planet.
Many here may not even think about what kind of Robertson we want. Or what we will build for our children and those who come after us. Or even how we want to be now.
         We leave a lot to others to decide about us. We sit under three layers of Australian Government. Most of us are what could be called ‘semi-careless democrats’. “Shee’l be right” We leave it to others to decide things for us. Sometimes very important things. And then often regret that things have changed in a way we regret.
         But when something like the building of a gaol is suggested or a new village notice board we join together and rise up, take our destiny seriously.
         So who really decides for Robertson? How does this happen? Who cares?   
Most decisions we make in our homes about or lives and those we care about. Matters which affect the whole town like sewerage, roads, future planning, rubbish, land management, playing fields and paying for those services are decided by Wingecarribee Shire Council. That is our local government.  We elect, as in September 2016, Councillors who blend what we want with what other towns and areas want and argue out decisions. They also argue for what they selfishly want for themselves or their mates. Those decisions are also influenced by the values, prejudices and ideals of the Councillors and with the expert advice of the officers who serve the Council.
         The Council is required to talk to us about what we want. They need to report to the New South Wales government about how they have consulted us. That consultation is grassroots democracy or ‘deliberative democracy’.
         For us to get what we want in the town we need to speak up when asked and we need to elect as our representatives those who have our interests at heart. We need to have some ideas about what we want such as a swimming pool and most importantly we need to be flexible and mature enough to blend what we want individually with what others and other groups want.
         Lately Council, after a process of consulting and listing results came up with a “Vision for Robertson”. It is a to do list of jobs to make life tetter here. But a plan is only as good as the number of people who own it and want it to happen. At least in a democracy. Then who decides the priorities on the to do list?
         Many of the jobs will have champions, who put their ideas there in the first place. Sporting clubs will champion their wants and other groups will champion other wants.
         But some push causes they want because they believe their cause is good for everybody. ISIS is an example; albeit not a democratic one.
         Council or any government is most likely to hear from people well organized and most pushy. Democracy works with pressure groups.
         So in the case of the Vision for Robertson Council officers chose which jobs would be priorities and which would receive some start up money. If you listen to their efforts to include everyone in their decision-making you will see how reluctant we are to engage in planning, even when the plan affects us directly. So Australian, “She’ll be right”.
         The chosen project had its champions. A notice board telling about Robertson. At some level this is the psyche of Robertson saying “Look at us, take notice, stop and experience and buy from us”.
         The choice of that “to do” is a fine example of “how things happen around here”. Council tries to find out what we want. Some attend the meetings and processes the Council conducts, some do not. Most do not attend.  Council officers collate the results and decide; some are delighted some, are not.
The take home message from the example is that if we want some thing locally we need to work with Council to decide what will actually happen. It is not magic. Not overly complicated and not a conspiracy.
In a later post I will look at the kind of future Robertson might have and how to get it.

Michael D. Breen

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Plan for Robertson or Snow job in June?

The following invitation reached me by email.
You’re invited to attend the launch of the Robertson Village Action Plan Wingecarribee Shire Council in conjunction with the Robertson Community including Robertson Public School, invites you to attend the official launch of the Our Village Our Future Robertson Village Action Plan on Friday 17 June at 1.00pm at the Robertson Public School Library, 47-53 Hoddle Street, Robertson.

This was a strange event. From the invitation it looks like the launch of a plan for Robertson Village. Maybe I went to the wrong event.

To be fair a list of names of sections of a plan was flashed up on a screen. And some attendees seemed to have a copy of an action plan. I know not where they got them.

There were several attractive and heart warming elements of the event. The students performed wonderfully singing, reciting and playing instruments as well as offering a welcome to country. My review of the event is intended in no way as a criticism of the children. And had I been a parent I would have been immensely proud as many obviously were. 

Several speakers made the point about the fact that the students are the ones who will live with what we leave to them and that education is the major asset we can give these precious people.

That said, the major piece on the day was an advertisement and fervourino for some kind of Robertson information amenity. None of this made much sense to me, and since we were not permitted to ask questions I post mine here.

·      Why was a time when many working people of Robertson could not attend chosen for the launch of a plan, which would affect them?
·      Who appointed the committee to develop the Information facility?
·      How did the information facility gain priority among the other needs of the village?
·      What will be the benefit to the community as a whole? (There seems to be an unfounded presumption that the village is a commercial entity of some kind).
·      If there is need of a building why not use the CTC which is built and is supposedly for the Robertson community?
·      From the presentation some kind of architectural feature seems proposed. Granted the fact that most tourists and visitors now use smart phone and car applications, and will do even more so in the future, why build anything and not put the investment into an updated application as to what Robertson is and what people can do here?
·      When will there be a dedicated presentation of the plan for Robertson with the opportunity to discuss and dialogue about guidelines and plans, which will affect our lives?
·      Many people are understandably cynical about ‘community consultation’ and see it as a box Councils need to tick rather than an enactment of deliberative democracy.  How would this event have benefited them rather than reinforce their cynicism?
·      Many residents would consider responding to requests for input into a plan as a fruitless exercise. And since it is the dialogic process which best practice worldwide recommends why does the council not use best practice?
·      Many would see the major challenge for the future of Robertson as the inclusion of and retaining of older residents in their community a major priority. Instead sending them away to some other place isolated from those they know and love means dying longer rather than living longer. Where are the plans for incorporating these kinds of dwellings into the housing mix of the village? How is the future plan managing this matter?

These questions arise for me as a Robertson person and as the designer, manager and facilitator of 55 Strategic and Corporate Future Plans and for which my company received an award from the Planning Association of Australia for excellence in community consultation processes.

I sent the above to the shire for a response  or correction before I put it up on line. Nicholas O’Connor Group Manager Corporate and Community replied:
The launch of the Plan will signify the handing over of he Plan from Council (who facilitated its development) to the community for ownership and future management.
Overall the OVOF project in Robertson village has been a success for local village action planning and the partnership formed between the community organisations.
Working Group – Seed Funding Project – Community Information Board
The working group has been formed to plan and allocate the seed funding. The group is made up of representatives from the community with the design and construction of a Community Information Board being planned.
 This project will incorporate public art and provide information on the history of the village, local attractions, and walking tracks which will help to encourage tourists to explore the area. The project fits in some way into all of the objectives listed in the Plan and the overall community vision.
The Robertson Shed has taken the lead role in the management of the project and endorsement to release the seed funding to this organisation to commence this project has been given.
The budget for the project exceeds the seed funding allocated and grant applications and other plans to raise funds are being worked on by the group.

As you can see the reply goes nowhere near responding to the questions. It quotes from a planning document.  This is common practice these days. Questions or challenges are responded to with slabs of quotations from Strategic and Corporate documents without dealing with the matter at hand. You make up your own mind.

Michael D. Breen