- Mountains And Waters
These words from my teacher offer a radical perspective on what we do when we sit down on the cushion. It’s not about calming ourselves, controlling emotions, or reaching special states of consciousness. No, it’s about reality. It’s not necessarily about seeing or knowing reality, experiencing it directly. When we sit zazen, we place ourselves on the ground of reality. Reality itself is what holds us up. We abandon theories, ideologies, interpretations – we accept reality as the only support.
We might say we submit ourselves to reality. But we also allow it to hold us up.
In a time when everything is changing and nothing seems trustworthy, this seems like a wise choice. Allowing things to be just as they are – allowing reality to be as it is – could save us from a lot of dangerous choices.
I’ll also offer this as a way to take our zazen, our meditation practice, into our homes and into public life. Things are the way they are. This is where we can start. On this, we can stand.
Here are a few recent news stories:
On the one hand, it’s just under 20 years since mass shootings became part of our ordinary life. Climate disasters are increasingly common, yet government and public response is not addressing prevention. On the other hand, there’s more and more recognition that the world around us is not just objects for us to consume or exploit, but living and conscious beings with rights of their own – and that those rights are inextricably tied up with human survival. Life is intense. I’m grateful to be alive now.
The Study Group is being changed to the Study/Action group – only because I don’t find myself very interested in abstract “study” but rather learning things that will make us more effective.
Today’s note is a simple observation about the difference between thoughts and feelings. People often say “I feel that xxxxx.” That’s a clue to a thought disguised as a feeling. “I feel like you don’t love me.” No, I feel unloved, and my analysis is that you don’t love me. It’s worthwhile to practice noticing when you’re having a feeling and when it’s a thought.
We have a strong schedule of events coming up. I described them last week and won’t repeat. But please look at the Land Care Retreats. May 17-19 and August 9-11. This is the closest you will come to a brief immersion in the core work of Mountains and Waters Alliance.
This is a space for news and events from groups we’re working with or just things we’d like you to know.
The potluck group listened to this talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. People have asked me to share it.
This is the new newsletter format, brief this time, planned to be monthly. Journal and Study/Action posts might still happen other times, and farm news as needed.
A note of thanks to those who have signed up for automatic donations. It makes an enormous difference. You can do this too, in any amount.
As spring approaches, the wish to share this space with people becomes stronger. So I’m writing about a bunch of possibilities and encouraging you to join me. Everything is at the farm except the ones identified as elsewhere.
I’ve just posted two new work days – March 16 and April 20 – with seasonal work projects. They’re scheduled for Saturdays because that works for most people, but I save both Friday and Sunday for work as well, for those who can’t do Saturday or who want more time out here. It’s always okay to sleep over, indoors or with a tent. Work days are usually the third weekend, but May will be the Land Care Retreat and June’s work weekend will be summer solstice.
The weather is perfect right now for sugaring, but we’ll wait for the weekend. It’s so wonderful to go out together, tap the trees and set things up, to accept this beautiful gift of the land. In April we’ll be actively out in the garden – with lots of possibilities, we’ll see what calls.
Potluck Sunday evenings – they’re not calendar listings, but we’re ready to expand the group again. March 17, April 21, May 19 – email me to get added to the group. This month we’re listening to a talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass.
April 5-7, in Minneapolis, I’ll be attending Winyan Awanyankapi: Protecting the Lifegivers Conference. A remarkable group of speakers. Registration is here, should you care to attend. Indigenous led, free to indigenous people, supported by our fees. If anyone from a distance would like to attend, I can offer housing.
April 27 in Northfield – Earth Day – I’ll be spending the day at Northfield’s Earth Day celebration. I’ve offered to lead a workshop on Deep Adaptation (see last week’s blog post about that) and will let you know if that’s happening.
April 29 – Special guest – Peter Bane, my permaculture teacher and the author of The Permaculture Handbook, is spending the day here, and is willing to visit with a small group over dinner. Let me know if you want to be notified – we’ll be watching the size of this group closely.
May 17-19 – Land Care Retreat – I so look forward to sharing the land and the way it’s teaching me. Please register early; ask questions if you like. It’s priced to be inviting. The second land care retreat is August 9-11, with my teacher Shohaku Okumura Roshi as guest speaker.
June 12-17 – Just Sitting – a sesshin at Hokyoji in southern Minnesota. Registration is here. The fee covers lodging – real beds – and meals cooked for us – but does not include anything for the teachers. There will be an opportunity to make an additional donation. Hokyoji is a beautiful place; I lived there one year.
October 11-13 in Bloomington, Indiana – I’m leading a Women’s retreat at Sanshinji.
To see everything, check the calendar.
The March 10 Dharma talk at Clouds in Water was rescheduled due to a ridiculous winter storm and terrible roads. I’ll post the new date when we have it.
That’s all for now. May you be safe, healthy, and at peace – and all your family and community as well.
Dear Friends of Mountains and Waters,
This is a repeat of last week’s blog post, which seems to have disappeared.
Here’s an overview of what’s coming up, and at the end thoughts and a link to Bendell’s work on “Deep Adaptation.”
Sesshin (Zen meditation retreat): 3-day sesshin at the farm, March 22-24 , June 28-30, and the fourth weekend of most months. Registration is always essential. Local people are welcome to come and sit for a few hours, but I need to know so I can be prepared to open the door.
Land Care Retreat May 17-19: Explore the unique offering of Mountains and Waters. Detailed information and registration here. Please register early. If you would like to do work exchange in advance, look below.
Looking Ahead: (because these require advance planning)
June 12-17: five day silent retreat (sesshin) at Hokyoji (Eitzen, MN). More information here. Co-led by Shodo with other Zen teachers, in the tradition of Okumura-rosho.
August 9-11 Land Care Retreat includes a Dharma talk by my teacher, the respected Shohaku Okumura-roshi. Early registration is recommended. There will be a few spots for the Saturday evening talk alone.
October 10-13: Women’s Retreat at Sanshinji, Bloomington, Indiana, led by Shodo. Registration opens in April, here.
December 1-8: Rohatsu Sesshin, here at the farm, 7 days of just sitting with reality.
Farm and Volunteer News:
Potlucks: We’re still having potlucks on third Sundays at 5:30-8 pm, food followed by study and discussion. We’re enjoying the small group, and there’s space for more. If you want to join one, ask to be added to the emails.
Volunteer work days: These are a chance to spend time here, practice mindful work and/or meditation with us, and possibly do work exchange for a later retreat.
March 15-16-17: Basically it’s 9-5 Saturday March 16, but you can come early or stay the 17th, and join the potluck as well.
May 17-19: This is the Land Care Retreat.
June and after: not yet scheduled. Feel free to ask.
Volunteers are welcome other times as well; just get in touch and we can set something up.
Climate change has arrived, big time, right here. We still don’t have wildfires or floods. But the past month’s record snowfalls have gotten everybody’s attention: Several days of being unable to get to work, or of clients canceling because they can’t get in or because schools are closed. Two days of “car won’t start” because of the cold. This is a place I thought would be safe. Meanwhile, there is scientist Jem Bendall and his work on Deep Adaptation. I recommend listening or reading – both are here. My summary and response:
Bendall thinks that societal collapse is inevitable, catastrophe is probable, human extinction possible. This is more optimistic than some of the people I read, but I find it credible. We are clearly in the process of societal collapse: hatred of refugees, increasing violence and polarization, police killing unarmed people – and unspeakable acts, including separating children from their families with no plan to reunite them, being defended by people who think they are moral. This is not “bad people” – it is collapse. It is the beginning of The Age of Consequences, which is a term for the fact that we have been using up stored resources (coal, oil, soil) and not replenishing everything (factory farming). The bitter fights on both Left and Right are symptoms of collapse.
It is up to all of us to find a way to help each other while the society that raised us (well or badly, privileged or oppressed) crumbles – and to build what will replace it. I found Bendall profoundly optimistic. I recommend listening, especially to the last half hour – but really to the whole thing.
Blessings and love to you all,
Here are just a few notes from the middle of snow country, snow season.
I’ve updated the journal entry that remembers last summer’s travels. Since it took five months, I didn’t want to plop it in the middle of other things. The whole thing is here.
Last Sunday I gave a talk “Finding Home in the Vow” at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center. I’ve been working with this theme for a while, including both retreats in Atlanta. But this talk is recorded, it will be posted on the website but meanwhile you can find it here. (Quality is good once you get past the first minute or two.) People seemed to like it a lot.
Next Dharma talk will be Sunday morning, March 10 at Clouds in Water, St. Paul.
If you’d like to join the potluck group, please contact me (Shodo) at firstname.lastname@example.org We meet Sunday evenings, eat, listen to an interesting talk, and discuss. The plan is a small-ish ongoing group, but you get to check it out first. (Feb 17 and March 17 are our next dates.)
Next sesshin at the farm: Feb 22-24 and March 22-24. Just sitting. And June 28-30, July 26-28, and so forth – on the calendar.
Land care retreat is moved to May 17-19. This is not just a work weekend, but a spiritual retreat focusing on opening ourselves to the beings of the land.
You’re very welcome to do work exchange instead of paying for the retreat. We don’t have scheduled work weekends yet – the weather is challenging – but please contact me if you’re interested. Say a word about your skills, or we can just chat. We’re hoping to do indoor renovation any time; there will be garden and farm work beginning in March with indoor seed starting and going throughout the year; firewood; and many other projects including online, website, and office help.
There is a possibility of a five-day sesshin June 12-17 at Hokyoji, the Zen country practice center near Houston, MN. It would be in my teacher’s style – just sitting – and led by three of four of us. I will post this when it is finalized.
The fall land care retreat may be moved to August to accommodate my teacher and some of my dharma sisters and brothers coming up from Sanshinji – I’ll announce when we know for sure.
We live in difficult times. Like last summer’s wildfires, the deep freeze and heavy snow are responding to climate change, which is a response to human disconnection from the natural world – including each other. There is so much to mourn, so many losses already happening and more apparently coming.
On the encouraging side, a judge somewhere in Australia said no to a coal mine, with climate change as one of the reasons. And on the discouraging side, Canada and British Columbia are flouting laws, treaties, and international law to push pipelines through unceded indigenous territory. More information here.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, the DNR wants a pipeline to happen, the Department of Commerce says it is not needed, and the new governor may be going back on his word to oppose pipelines. There have been demonstrations, and now there are phone calls – the decision will be made Monday. An answering machine will take your message. Be polite. Telephone: 651-201-3400, Toll Free: 800-657-3717 – Extensive background information here. This resistance is being led by indigenous people and supported by many.
There is no such thing as neutrality in a time of oppression. Silence gives consent. So I am speaking here, and invite you to join me.
Here are a few announcements and some thoughts.
February 1, 7 pm: Book reading at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul. This is for the book Zen Teachings in Challenging Times. Shodo is one of four local authors who will be reading, and books will be offered for sale. Clouds in Water Zen Center is at 445 Farrington Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55103 USA, 651-222-6968, email@example.com
February 3, Dharma talk at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield. Come for 9:30 am sitting, talk begins at 10:15. http://northfieldmeditation.org/upcoming-events-2/
March 10, Dharma talk at Clouds in Water (address above). This link will help you figure out what time to arrive – though I suggest being in the zendo by 9 am, the talk will begin at 9:35.
Sesshin (Zen sitting retreat): 3-day sesshin at the farm, February 22-24, March 22-24, April 26-28. Most months have sesshin on the fourth weekend, but sometimes it’s replaced by something (Land Care Retreat, for instance). Registration is always essential. Local people are welcome to come and sit for a few hours, but I need to know so I can be prepared to open the door.
Land Care Retreat May 17-19: Detailed information and registration here. But – registration is required, limit ten people, there is a fee, you can arrange for work exchange in advance. Here are a few words about this: Our intention in this retreat is to open to the natural world around us, learning to be members rather than owners. The meditation and Dharma talk times help us to drop away preconceptions, calm down, and be more available to the real teachers – woods, water, soils, our own bodies, the human community. The afternoon work times are for hands-on practice of listening to the land and responding to it in detail – soils, plants, whatever is requested. That work might be farming or wilderness care; either will involve intimate engagement with the earth and its beings.
Potlucks: We’re still having potlucks on the third Sundays at 5:30-8 pm. They’re not posted here because we’re trying to create an lasting small group. If you want to join one, ask to be added to the emails.
Volunteer work days: There’s no schedule yet, but there will be. Meanwhile, you can let us know if interested in any of these projects – that will help us set dates. .
And many other possibilities. Feel free to offer what you have.
There is now formal membership, and it would be really great if people actually joined, look here for information. Also it would be great if people made a commitment to donate regularly, even a small amount. It eases the work and anxiety of asking. Makes it possible to plan.
There’s so much happening. I have probably spent hours following the matter of the Covington High School boys and Nathan Phillips. I’m now waiting to hear how the school responds to the invitation from Phillips and his people, for a healing ceremony. Otherwise – I’m out. Too much hate coming from too many directions.
But I want to write about the conversation we had at the potluck last night. We’re working with thoughtful speakers who combine spirituality and some kind of engagement with the world. This month was Mushim Patricia Ikeda. Next month Robin Kimmerer.
We found ourselves in a discussion of faith, and of tribes – with examples from the Renaissance Festival community of traveling artists and craftspeople, and people taking care of each other. We don’t know a sustainable example of tribe in this time, though. It’s the dream of what could happen here at the farm, or around the farm.
That’s all for now.
Blessings and love to you all,
So here’s the thing: will you be here for your life, or will you miss it?
Do you remember, perhaps, how summer days were in childhood? Did you wake in the morning with a whole day in front of you, go out the door to play with friends or to wander outdoors? Occasionally chores? And when evening came, you could barely remember morning, it was so long ago?
There’s an expression from a Zen teacher about sesshin (meditation retreat): “the days are as long as they were in childhood.” We sit facing a wall, with structured breaks for walking, eating, chanting, talks, and maybe a work period. With no escape except the daydream, the days are long, the minutes move slowly. That could be a blessing or a curse, but it’s mind’s habits that make it a curse.
Mindfulness is about becoming free from those habits. I could say changing those habits, and that would also be true. Develop the habit of calm, of readiness, of openness, of interest, replacing habits of fear, escape, or complaint.
One training is to sit still and upright, and let the mind follow the breath: sitting meditation. Of course the mind wanders, and the training is to bring it back. It can feel like work, because the mind’s wanderings seem fascinating, and the present seems boring. This is the cognitive mind, which only knows thoughts. But thoughts are just another experience, known in Buddhism as one of the six senses.
The mind of awareness knows more. The body itself is an infinity of sensations, when we notice them. Even just sounds – stop for a moment and listen, listen, listen. Even the most subtle movements of the body, proprioception. Heat and cold, the movement of air on the skin, the touch of clothing or objects. And the cognitive mind is a vast ocean, thoughts arising and falling, arising and being pursued, arising and being avoided. All the senses – sight, smell, taste as well as sound, touch, and thought – offer vast entertainment for the calm mind, and that calming eventually leads to the delight of deep calm called samadhi, or one-pointedness.
Every action, even stillness, becomes an ocean of sensation for the mind of awareness. And then you are alive.
Writing this is not to deny the thing called work, meaning taking an action with the intention of a result. That requires its own writing. Another time.
And here is something I’m aware of right now, in world events.
May you be here for your life.
“To settle the self upon the self, and let the flower of your life-force bloom.”
In the old tradition, we remember Buddha’s enlightenment by sitting facing the wall for seven days. Together. It’s called Rohatsu sesshin.
We sat Rohatsu here at the farm. Mostly I sat; two people had planned to come and then weren’t able. One person joined me for the last evening, and somehow that made all the difference. Sitting alone can be hard. I move too often, and spend too much time taking care of things like meals – or just avoiding. This time, though, I sat 8-9 hours per day, with energy. I supported the intention by reading a little – first Francis Cook’s Sounds of Valley Streams, then Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. I needed to hear the teaching in unfamiliar words; both of these helped.
There’s a place in me that’s deeply fed by sitting zazen. That place was hungry; I’ve missed too many retreats these past months, and one hour per day isn’t enough to satisfy. So I began, restless, and it took a few days to settle down.
I found myself studying anger. It goes like this: you sit down in a comfortable posture, take a few breaths, and invite the mind to settle down. During this process, thoughts come up – usually memories or hopes. They say, let them go, don’t dwell on them. Easy enough to say. They come back. And again. This week, a particular object would arise, of anger or complaint. It would keep coming back. I began to notice that I was holding to fixed opinions about the people involved. I began to notice the experience of anger in my body, a tightening here and there. I sat with that experience. It wasn’t generally pleasant.
Looking back, it seems to me that I invited the anger to come forward, to present itself. I noticed its temptation and how it made me unhappy, and how I didn’t like it. For days. I felt aversion toward my judgmental thoughts, toward my envy and resentment, toward the way I sometimes explode or criticize people. And, staying with it, something actually did settle down. My body became more calm. I liked it – this is called attraction.
Sometimes I strayed into hopes – visions of this or that about my life, it doesn’t really matter what. Or appreciation of things as they are right now. The opportunities for diversion are endless. I kept coming back, and the noise settled down gradually.
At the end of each day I did three prostrations, a small ceremony that is part of this big ceremony of remembrance. Sitting sesshin, sitting zazen, these are ceremonies, done for their own sake, not to achieve anything. I suspect that they shape the structure of the universe. I know that, as Katagiri Roshi wrote above, there is a settling down, and a dropping of the structures of habit that interfere with our lives.
That’s all the words I have today.
The next sesshin here will be February 22-24, and the next one March 22-24.
I’ll be teaching in Atlanta in January: a one-day retreat January 5 at Red Clay, a discussion January 6 at Red Clay, and a one-day retreat January 12 at Midtown Atlanta Zen.
February 1, 7 pm, at Clouds in Water in St. Paul there will be a book reading with authors from Zen Teachings in Challenging Times. March 10 I will offer the Sunday morning dharma talk at Clouds.
Here are a few announcements and a report from the past year.
The potluck group has gotten big enough that it’s not posted any more, to keep the size reasonable. If you would like to come, please email Shodo directly and ask. We’re sharing food and studying together.
Zen practice events:
End of year report:
It’s been a year of quiet, with a month-long retreat in the middle. I started writing a report on that retreat, and never finished – will do that soon. It included a lot of conversations with rocks, some encounters with hail, cold water, dryness – and a vow to support pine trees around the world.
At the farm, I started with a housemate and now have two, not community members but good energy. I’m in conversation with three potential members, all over 50 and all seeming like good possibilities. I posted about living here at https://www.ic.org.
We did some work on the house, and now have two proper bedrooms on the ground floor, plus a “guest room” that needs completion, and guest space in the attic. Of course there was maintenance – sanding and oiling the deck, some painting, and so forth. There was serious tornado damage, mostly to trees rather than buildings, and repair work continues. We are doing much heating with firewood, but it will run out, so we’re also using propane. When the tornado damaged wood dries we’ll have several years worth of wood. In the forest area, many trees are down, and there’s a sense of much hard work and also openness to change. The meditation hut in the woods just might be a log cabin.
In the spring we grafted fruit trees, but not too many of the grafts took. And many trees were girdled during the very late spring snows. Next year we’ll see what’s alive, and graft again.
The Advisory Council met by phone every month except one; the Board met twice. We defined membership, discussed outreach and fundraising, and added a member to the Council.
The beautiful new website was created, with a few additions and modifications yet to go.
We applied for grants but did not get any; now one grant application is outstanding and another is in process. We didn’t do a fundraising campaign during this quiet time.
Action: In addition to the spiritual and ceremonial work, I’ve been meeting and talking with several environmental activist groups: a local group resisting Line 3 (northern Minnesota), Climate Disobedience Center (also direct action), and Community Rights Organizing work. Understanding why I felt the need to do this comes with Joanna Macy’s interpretation of the three parts of The Great Turning: protection (resistance to harm), building the new society (farm and community), and consciousness change (teaching Zen and all the MWA work). Theoretically, it’s fine for one person to focus on one part. But I feel better with some participation in all three.
Teaching and publications:
My essay “When the World is on Fire” appeared in Zen Teachings in Challenging Times by Temple Ground Press.
“Finding Home in the Vow” appeared in Boundless Vows, Endless Practice: Bodhisattva Vows in the 21st Century, by Dogen Institute – my teacher’s organization.
The book I edited, The Mountains and Waters Sutra: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Sansuikyo by my teacher Shohaku Okumura was published by Wisdom Publications.
I gave a talk and retreat in Columbus OH, at Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta GA, and a talk at Clouds in Water in St. Paul MN).
Books for sale:
These are all the books that include my writings now.
If you would like to buy one or more books, please email me, and use Paypal or mail a check to Shodo Spring, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault, MN 55021. Add $3 for postage. I’ll mail them first class in recycled envelopes.
We’ve defined membership formally. It’s not on the website yet, so let me post it here.
Introductory Member: Sign up as a member below, AND, at least once a year do at least one of the following,
Engaged Member: Sign up as a member below, AND do all of the following:
At this point, there is no “below” for signing up. Please email me if you want to become a member.
Snow is falling, the sun is coming out occasionally, and it might reach 20F at the warmest point this afternoon. Winter comes, whether we like it or not.
Blessings and love to you all,
Years ago, a teacher at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, said to me “We each have to find our own way.” There, when entering monastic practice for the first time, we would first sit in silence for five days. This was called “clarifying the mind.” Now, seeing more clearly, I recognize that this means dropping ideas and letting the Great Way find us.
Some things are now clear enough that I can share them with you. It seems like a direction change, but it’s not.
The most important thing that I am doing is my practice, also known as my work. At this time that means to carry on the combination of zazen (sitting meditation: just sitting with the whole universe as we all create each other) and intimate relationship with all beings of the earth. Those are actually the same, but one looks like sitting still and the other like walking outdoors, making ceremony and offerings, visiting sacred places.
To make space for this, I am dropping some activities. Most of them involve efforts to get people to join me in my work. I’m going to the “attraction rather than promotion” model.
Here are two talks that I liked, from 2016.
“The whole world is the true human body.”
“A single hand held out freely.”
I was asked “So what is true?” These things came up immediately, in this order. I remember who said each one to me, though they’re not unique to those people.
And this, for moments of discouragement: Trust the Way, trust that you are in the Way, from Eihei Dogen.
And I want to invite you to listen to three talks by Martin Prechtel, who I’ve referenced before. They’re now linked here.
Please continue your practice.
I spent a month on retreat; here are notes from the first few days. Below is simple stuff including event updates and encouragement to subscribe.
You should have already received notice on these events. If you haven’t, please check whether you are subscribed to updates. Go to home and scroll down. You might try checking all the boxes, then removing the ones that aren’t of interest.
October 7, Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center
October 14, Shodo speaks at Clouds in Water Zen Center
October 26-28, Land Care Retreat (fee, registration required)
Nov 30-Dec 8, Rohatsu sesshin (fee, registration required)
Work days on the farm– dates TBA
Probably Oct 20 or 21, and one day in November. These days are a chance to enjoy the outdoors and help with plants and land. I’m looking for some replies before setting dates. We provide food and snacks, and sometimes people go home with plants. If you tell me you’re interested, you can influence the schedule.
You might also earn a scholarship to a retreat – ask about this.
Potluck with extras – October 21, 5-8 pm – also third Sunday every month
After dinner we’ll either watch a short documentary or listen to a Dharma talk. Decision will be made together with those who RSVP first.
Long distance events in 2019:
January 5, Atlanta, all-day retreat at Red Clay Sangha, January 6, Dharma talk at Red Clay.
January 12 or 13, Atlanta, talk or retreat at Midtown Atlanta Zen.
October 11-13, Bloomington, IN, Women’s Retreat at Sanshin Zen Community.
Right Now: Easy support request:
You can raise $3 for us if you click this button by September 16. I wrote about this before – please do it! A single plane ticket probably gives us at least $5. Leave Amazon, support smaller merchants while supporting us. The Donation page has more information.
It’s good to be home. The sun is setting earlier. A new housemate will be doing some much-needed carpentry; I’ve sanded and oiled the deck and started to weed the garden. Raspberries are still coming. If people come for the work day, we can transplant raspberries to a better location (more accessible, less tangled). At the Land Care Retreat, I expect to offer some of the work from Martin Prechtel’s book, as well as my own explorations and Zen understandings.
And do look at the journal entry.
Love and respect,
Mountains and Waters Alliance has a new website! Please take a look around – it is now much easier to find the pictures, the people, the events – and you can subscribe to everything or just to your particular interests.
I’ll be adding more information in the next weeks and months – starting with stories and thoughts from my recent month-long retreat. Eventually, the resource page will be a referral library with web links, book recommendations, and more.
October 7, 9:30 am, in Northfield: My friend Beth Goldring gives the Dharma talk at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center, 313 ½ S Division Street, Northfield, MN. Beth is retired after founding Brahmavihara Cambodia, which for many years provided chaplaincy services to AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is a dharma heir of Gil Fronsdale, a lifelong activist, and one of my mentors.
October 14, 9 am, in St. Paul. I give the Dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, 445 Farrington Street, St. Paul. Meditation starts at 9 am, talk at 10:30.
October 26-28: Land Care Retreat: Spiritual Practice with the Natural World. At the farm.
November 30-December 8: Rohatsu sesshin, at the farm. (Simplified Zen meditation retreat, honoring when Buddha sat for 7 days and attained enlightenment.
We are with iGive instead of Amazon Smile – a higher donation and you are supporting a wide and healthy marketplace instead of a monopoly. Right now, you can send us $3 just by signing up with them. They put a button on your desktop, and you just do your shopping as always. Major airlines are included, which means that your travel can help us.
We won’t be using the blog any more – everything will be here. I’m excited about this site. Hope it serves you well.
The essential nature of life is offering. Some people, and some cultures, still know this. Modern Americans, not so much.
One of the first things that caught my attention in Zen practice was a meal chant which began, “Innumerable labors have brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us,” continued with “This food is for the Three Treasures”, for the four benefactors, and for all beings in the six worlds, and ended with “We eat this food with everyone. We eat to end all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings, and to accomplish the Buddha Way.”
I didn’t know anything about offering, but that chant included everything. And it told me I was in the right place, in a holy place, home. (The translation was changed decades ago, but these are the words that opened my heart.)
Martin Prechtel’s 2012 book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The parallel lives of people as plants: keeping the seeds alive takes us into a world where the whole people know that way of offering, of responding to every single thing, every gift from the gods. He describes the offerings that must be made for something so simple as making a knife – the ore from the earth is just a beginning.
The American way of life sees everything around us as resources to be used for our own benefit. Martin refers to this way as hollow, stealing, empty, destructive – and observes that such a life results in destruction.
I wrote a little more here. And if you are nearby (southern Minnesota), I invite you to two occasions to study and practice the way of offering.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, SUMMER SOLSTICE GATHERING
This happens in three parts; you may come to one or all, and friends are welcome. But please let me know…our address is 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault, MN, and when you arrive you come to the house that looks like a barn (parking on the left).
WEDNESDAY EVENING, JUNE 20, “ZEN AS RELIGION”
This concludes the “Introduction to Zen” series, with a look at the chants and ceremonies, and a discussion of the classic question “Is Zen a religion? A philosophy? Or what?” (I promise there will not be an answer to the question.) We’ll particularly look at all of these things as the Zen style of making offerings.
And it concludes the Wednesday evening sittings. See below under Zen News.
We had a week-long volunteer, Celeste Pinheiro, who knows gardening and jumped right in. Thus we
have some photos of how the garden looks afterward. She’s also an artist, and started work on a logo for us.
Last week my housemate TR asked if I had some work, on behalf of a college student friend. Well, Harry Edstrom came Wednesday afternoon and kept coming back through Saturday. On Friday Cassidy Carlisle came with him, and on Saturday Essam Elkorgle joined them.
So we have lots of things planted, big areas mulched, strawberries moved, trees in protective cages, and three tiny Korean nut pines safely in the ground. We also have another guest room! Funny how that happened: it was raining on Friday, so I asked Harry and Cassidy to do a very small painting job in the guest room. They liked it. It kept raining. I really, really wanted to get that place cleaned up. So they kept painting, I kept moving furniture so they could keep painting, and we wound up turning the junk room into a very nice space (photos!). The next day, with Essam, we moved furniture to turn it into a bedroom. Today Laurel Carrington (Buddhist center friend) promised to bring a real bed! I know some visitors will be very happy.
The most fun thing, unless it was transforming the basement, was working with the hand-powered two-person saw. Here’s a picture of Cassidy and Harry cutting wood with it.
For a few years I’ve hosted a Zen group in Northfield, meeting two or three times a month, while carrying on a daily practice here at the farm (morning sitting and chanting, monthly retreats) and sometimes having Zen-practice visitors.
The Wednesday night group will end with the June 20 discussion. I’m hoping that people who want some form of Zen practice will contact me, and we’ll talk about what we want to do. Northfield has a very solid Buddhist presence, with sittings 6 days a week and monthly speakers, so nobody will be left hanging.
With the new guest room, the option of coming for retreats or longer practice opportunities is much improved. We also have a tent space in the nearby pines, created by Celeste.
We’re working on a better website, date some time this summer.
In mid-July I begin travels to visit some people, some of the mountains/waters members of the Alliance, and to attend a 2-week retreat at the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. The first week will be just meditation together in the mountains, with a solo time outdoors; the second half will include conversation with other serious environmental activists and meditators. I’m really looking forward to this.
I continue to offer psychotherapy services in Minneapolis, which is a lovely way to make a living and be able to support the Alliance. I am gradually shifting this work to an office in Northfield, which will be more convenient.
And that is all for now. Please be well and happy in every way.
We look forward to a summer solstice celebration, Sunday June 17, in the spirit of gratitude for the gifts of the earth and making an offering in return. More information.
You’re invited to a gardening day Saturday, June 2, in the spirit of offering, of loving the land, of befriending our plant and earth neighbors – we’ll be planting vegetables, mulching, moving some berry plants. You may take home some strawberry or raspberry plants. Lunch is provided if you RSVP. Come any time 10-5!
Journal: I’ve been thinking about chanting, what it is, what it means, and our whole relationship to the earth and beings around us. Read here.
News: This is brief; the more interesting things have gone to Journal and Study Group. But at the end of April I taught in Columbus, Ohio. There was a workshop on facing the coming challenges, and a day-long sitting focusing on basic Zen teachings. I look forward to returning. I spent five days studying with my teacher and two others, and came away feeling much nourished.
I’m continuing to work as a psychotherapist to support this work; now I see clients in Northfield and by “teletherapy.”
A week-long visitor, Celeste Pinhiero, is helping with the garden, camping in the pines, and bringing a wonderful energy, more land-based than I have ever been – and bringing in new flowers, tidying, sitting with me in the mornings. Susan Schoenberg visited for a day and hopes to return. T.R. McKenzie still lives here, works full time but we manage occasional fruitful conversations.
Plans for the summer include a month-long journey, centered around a two-week meditation and activism retreat in Colorado. Plus more time with the land, and continuing the deeper work of studying what it is I have to offer. Writing will not be happening so fast.
There are still spaces for short visits for practice, work, and Dharma conversation.
Please keep this work in your heart. And write if you wish.
The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.
The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.
Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.
Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.