Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Why I’m Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October... there's a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there's 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I'm once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I've watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I'm sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., "I like it on the table".

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don't) or that all women carry purses (they don't), I'm just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I'm being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn't I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn't this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I'm being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we're bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we're hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We're so pinkwashed that we hopefully won't notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our "awareness". Those companies hope that we'll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won't ask them why the hell they're still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that's the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my "awareness".

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen...

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.

  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone - used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.

Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren't busy "going pink", they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic "Think Before You Pink" campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.


Cup Gazing

The latest and greatest installment in what continues to unfold for me with this bit from Rumi:

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

Last week I realized that I had a Tuesday evening completely free. Since I would be busy with Ignite Portland on Thursday I decided to go to the zazen and discussion held on Tuesdays. The leader for last Tuesday had suggested that people bring quotes or short readings that inspired their practice. I brought the Rumi.

When I shared it I commented that what has started to really get through to me are the two words, "Don't mind". These are the important bit, as my teacher had commented to me. When I don't mind the cup is stained, that's when the stains clean themselves. Just recently it has finally felt like I'm in a place where I am starting to get the whole not minding thing.

Fresh off my sharing at the Dharma center this little gem of Rumi's came up during a conversation with PB. How I've been working with it, seeing the cup as my life and the traumatic moments as the dirt on the cup. She offered that perhaps I should consider buying a new cup.

I immediately, passionately said that wasn't the point. I can look at all the ways I tried to keep re-inventing myself during my teens, 20s and into my 30s as merely trying to "buy a new cup". It doesn't work, you cannot buy or acquire your way out of this one. You have to work with the cup you're given.

I said that it also felt that wanting to discard the cup because it was dirty wasn't compassionate. In honoring the cup, using it, it equally honors the person I was. In particular it acknowledges and holds the child I was in loving-kindness. To want to get rid of the cup is to want to get rid of that child and she doesn't deserve that. Besides, that isn't the point.

One of the younger priests in my Zen community once suggested upon hearing this Rumi that "There is no cup."

While that's very Zen and strolls right along that uncertain path called "No Self", it misses the point. The cup, the dirty cup is an intrinsic part. We must have a cup in order to partake in the pure wine that is life.

The point is not minding the dirt.

Not minding that I was hurt doesn't mean I condone it, rather it means I don't see myself as intrinsically flawed because of the "stain" of those events. Yes, those events affected me greatly, still affect me, but they are not an indicator that something is wrong with me. None of it was my fault.

Which brings me to a mug I purchased at SFMOMA in May. The colors and the simple ginkgo leaf pattern make me smile, it was also on clearance in the gift shop (bonus!), and I drink tea from it pretty regularly.

Tea can be a pretty strong dye and in short order my new favorite mug for tea had acquired stains that the dishwasher doesn't affect.

Do I mind? No. Does it affect the tea? Not in the least. Is the cup still completely pleasing to me, stains and all? Yeah, absolutely. It isn't exactly self-cleaning, but I don't mind. Silly as it may seem, given that the stains appear on the mug not out of some act of violence or deception, but still this mug is a good reminder.

This cup holds my tea and if it is a green tea I can even appreciate the stains on it when I'm drinking from it. They indicate nothing more than the ability of strong liquids to leave a mark. It is the outcome of this mug having a life. A perfectly good mug and I like it stains and all.

My life shows the effects of everything that has happened to me. Some of those things leave me feeling pretty sad and hurt. Taken as a whole, I have learned a lot about not minding my life. I even have begun to relax occasionally into even enjoying it, not minding the stains at all.