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A Zen story: The monk asked the master, “How do we practice in difficult times?” The master replied “Welcome.”
Suggested direction from an email exchange: “At last, a challenge worthy of our intelligence and abilities.”
The people thriving in this time are those made alive by throwing themselves into the collective change needed. Whether they are registering voters, doing legislation, fighting fires, consciously building the new society, or offering hospice as old ways and hopes die, they find meaning in their lives through engagement. Not everyone can do such things – many people need to take care of their health, their families, or something very immediate – but I wonder whether it might be possible to connect those necessities with the energy that moves toward life – to find the sense of completeness that comes from engagement.
In the Gift of Fearlessness group, we are having increasingly interesting conversations, working with an article “How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene”
The writer’s proposal is about our relationship with plants, about decolonizing, and much more. I suggest that you read it as a poem or a fantasy, then think that it’s utterly real and ask how life becomes different with this thinking. Reflect on the last line: “Whatever you do, conspire with the plants to make art like your life depends on disrupting the colonial common sense that would leave us all to die in the Anthropocene.”
We honor the firefighters who risk their lives, yet we don’t do the actions that would prevent the necessity – taking care of the forests in advance, the small fires, indigenous wisdom. When Australia was burning, lands under indigenous care did better. It’s still climate change (caused by human/ colonizer hubris) but it’s also aggravated by human/colonizer ways of ignoring the natural ways of forests.
I don’t know what term to use, and I’m choosing colonizer to indicate the kind of mindset that looks at a land and sees only resources for exploitation, or things that get in the way. It looks at people that way too, and enslaves or kills them. It’s happening now, ask any Black or indigenous person, any refugee. It’s not new – just read some history.
Related books: Thus Spoke the Plant, by Monica Gagliano, and Greening the Paranormal, edited by Dr. Jack Hunter. Apparently there are many more books of this sort, stories or research or analysis about the world not being quite the way we imagine it, and how that might open up our way of living.
We are in fear, appropriately, about climate change, about the virus (and likely future ones), about economic collapse which includes probable food shortages and personal disasters for millions of people. Our politicians are failing us – actually many of them are actively hurting us. Those of us who always trusted the police are having second thoughts. We wonder whether the election will happen, whether it will be honest, and whether its results will be respected. We imagine a coup. While among us, Black, brown, Red Nations, and poor people are thinking, perhaps saying, “told you so.” There’s nothing new here except an unveiling – becoming visible – apocalypse.
For me, the missing piece in all this work is the matter of asking for help. All the attempts at solutions are attempts by humans alone. Often they’re by colonizers alone – indigenous wisdom in forest care and everything else has not even been considered – though recently that’s starting to change. Still, most of us don’t think of asking for help from the forests themselves – or from the soils, the mycelial networks, the rain, the air. We assume they are inanimate, even while science increasingly observes their aliveness and their consciousness.
It’s a long habit, hard to break, and an essential part of freeing our minds from their colonized existence.
Try this: Ask the air for help, with whatever problem comes to your attention next. Personal health, family troubles, fascism, climate collapse, racism – ask for help from that which is closest to us, which creates us on a daily basis.
And then see what happens. Inside of you, or around you.
Last month’s newsletter had nearly everything from the farm and the practice schedule, including invitations to participate. I’ll add just a few things:
We’re having visitors, spending time outdoors. One person is seriously considering becoming a resident.
A hard thing: The people to the north of me are building a house in the woods, which I’d thought of as my woods. Briefly I went into anger and despair. I thought of leaving and becoming a traveler. Then the thought came up “first world problems.” I considered the difficulties ahead of us. This place will be needed, growing food and practicing sanity, even with one of its holy places harmed.
“When difficulty comes, practice with it.”
Please ask for help.
Love to you all.
In this time of turmoil and uncertainty, impermanence is thoroughly present to us. I offer you these words of the Buddha, from the Upaddha Sutta:
The Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One: “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
The Buddha replied:
“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path.”
Spiritual community makes everything possible.
We are having a long quiet time with the pandemic. Now I write to invite you to come out to the farm. All the things below can be done even during the pandemic.
We’ll have space for more people in spring/summer of 2021. In my dreams, I see four people (eventually six), balanced in age, gender, and race or culture, with spiritual and activist commitments in harmony with the MWA vision, and functioning as a community, not a hierarchy.
Someone with these skills could probably quickly support themselves from the land while contributing to the community:
These skills are much needed, and I’d look for ways to support them.
Some people will also be working off the farm, so I’m not the only one working for cash.
In the dream,
Classes generally start with 10 minutes of quiet sitting meditation. Location is here for all of these.
It’s possible to set up an online meeting with Shodo for spiritual guidance. Email or talk with her.
Let us hold each other in our hearts during these difficult times. You can chant, pray, offer loving-kindness meditation on behalf of individuals, groups, places, whatever and whoever calls to you.
We live in a time that calls for something larger and deeper than I can actually imagine.
So I thought I would start with Buddhism’s Five Remembrances.
These are so ordinary and so obvious, and we live in a culture that forgets them, that fights against them. I’m saying “the culture” because there are many people among us who have not forgotten. I am a white privileged person, and I can usually forget these things. I don’t get sick often. Most of the people in my life who have died, have died when it was their time. And basically I’m escaping a lot of things. And that’s what we’ve been trained into. That technology can save us. The people who know otherwise are mostly people of color, and poor people, and people in other places in the world.
Old age, ill health, death, and loss – that’s the nature of human life, in every circumstance, in every situation – and we have been trained not to believe these things. We have huge industries delaying death. We have huge industries fighting sickness. We have huge industries helping people to stay young longer. And – look here we are, we’re together, because we have technology that helps us to minimize the separation.
But now we’re in this time when technology is not helping us. Our technology is a hundred years old. The fact that we live in a country where the leaders are refusing to use that technology means we’re having more deaths. it helps me to remember that we cannot quite say it is their fault. We cannot quite say “You caused these deaths.” We can say various things but death is part of being human.
And then in the middle of that, because a young woman took a video of the murder of George Floyd, something has changed about our knowledge of the society in which we live. Instead of it being one of those deaths recognized by and criticized by a relatively small group of people in this society, it has become seen by everyone. There was a video, there was the peaceful memorial invaded by Minneapolis police with brutality, with violence, and finally eventually, a response that included, I won’t say violence but destruction of property. From this distance it seemed like a war in South Minneapolis, where I no longer live, but “uprising” is the better term.
And so this is called an uncovering, a lifting of the veil, an apocalypse. At one time two things are being seen. One is that we are not the masters of life and death. The other is the violence inherent in this society.
I ask myself about that violence, and I think about trauma. As a psychotherapist I’ve taken trainings in how to help people heal from trauma. People are now working with generational trauma, and I also think about the trauma in the lives of the people who are hateful, who are murdering, who are causing violence, who are showing up with guns to defend their right not to wear a mask, who are hanging Black people (and the police call it suicide until enough people scream about it).
So things are being uncovered, and I ask “How did we get to be this way?” A lot of people have asked how did those people, those white people who came here from Europe, how did they get to be this way?
You know, the American Revolution was in large part fought for the right to commit genocide among Native Americans and the right to hold slaves, because the English, bad as they were, were a little nicer than the colonists. And in the past few years, I’ve been recognizing more history and coming to terms with my ancestors. As a child of Germans, I’ve had some more recent history to come to terms with. But then I ask, how do people come to be that way?
The book by Mary Trump (Too Much and Never Enough), which I don’t think any of us have read yet, seems to talk about that.
In following the three Federal executions this past week, and the legal defense and the stories told about those men, it was clear that all of them were traumatized in their childhoods. And I thought about my own ancestors. About two thousand years ago the Romans invaded Germany. They looked at the Germans and said these are savages, these are barbarians. They don’t even have villages, they move around. They have nothing to give us. And so we’ll exterminate them. So they came in, with their armies, with their slave soldiers, and they killed, and they wiped out, and what I thought about is that those of my ancestors who survived, made a decision to go with the program. They decided to become like the Romans, even if it was only to save their lives.
In 1865, Chief Little Thunder and sixty lodges of the Brules made the decision to surrender to the white soldiers in order to save the lives of the people who were in front of them. The people he knew and who he saw, he had to make the decision to let them become slaves, or to let them become dead. (I actually don’t know whether they decided together or whether he made the decision. I do know that only months later his son led a mutiny because of abuses by the white soldiers.) reference
One cannot criticize a decision like that, and the heartbreak that goes with it. All around us people are making those decisions. They’re deciding whether to go along with the program of the militaristic bullies, of capitalism, of the forces of death, or whether to be dead. And their descendants will forget, because it’s more comfortable to forget.
So I’m trying to say to myself, the neighbor who shouts at me, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, the attorney general – those people are coming from a history of trauma, and that trauma goes way back. And it depends – I can imagine two thousand years, maybe. I can’t imagine back to the agricultural revolution so well. When because they started planting and saving grain, some people were enslaved, and some people were masters and had luxuries, and could do things like philosophy and art and study, and so there was a division among human beings. I can’t imagine that time, or why it happened, I just know that that’s the foundation of the society we live in now. This doesn’t excuse the individuals who pass on violence and trauma, but it might guide us in thinking how to create a different future – from our own traumatized bodies and minds.
Add to those two ancient traumas the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of oil, coal, and gas, the ability to take from the earth what took millions of years to put into it, to use it all up, to seem to control our environment. Those are our heritage and our trauma.
Why do I call the Industrial Revolution trauma? Well, I chose to live in the country. There are gravel pits a few miles away from me, and every now and then we gravel the driveway. Gravel pits are ugly, and they keep growing, and if I’m going to drive a vehicle out here I need to gravel the driveway and the road, so to be here I’m helping destroy the local earth. In the city you have paved roads – what’s the cost of that? There’s a cost to the earth, and there’s a cost to the human beings, that you live among pavement instead of waking up to the trees and the birds, and in a living thriving natural world.
When I think about the time that we’re in, which includes massive demonstrations, it includes people who come in and exploit those demonstrations for whatever purpose, it includes repression, and it includes some amazing responses. The Minneapolis City Council deciding to defund the police, and then they have to figure out what that means. There are very exciting things happening now, and there are very painful and scary things happening now. And those of us who did not know about this, because of technology, now we can know about it. Because of a cell phone camera, we know one, and we’ve learned to be suspicious about all the rest.
So we’re in a time of change, and whether that feels like more loss or more opportunity to hope, that is different with each person. There certainly are quite a few people who see it only as loss, who are shouting about their right not to wear a mask, who are waving guns. Some of us watch these people and we try not to celebrate when one of them dies from the virus. They are, after all, individuals with lives and families – they are more than just threats.
Anyway, we’re in a time of change. The Buddha didn’t talk about any of the external things happening in his world. Zen Master Dogen didn’t either. He was in a somewhat turbulent time, a time of change, and he said to his monks “don’t talk about politics.”
But he also said a lay person can be enlightened just as much as a monk can, there’s no difference. And he said “The entire world of the ten directions is nothing but the true human body.” The world we live in – not some other world, not the world of 1200, but the world we live in now. Including violence, including uprisings, including sharp words being said. THIS world is our true human body. We were made by it and we make it.
I remember a boy who came into my therapy office, twenty or thirty years ago now. It seems his father was physically abusing him, and saying terrible things to him – you know what that does to a child. So I got both parents into the office, and asked, and the father said “It was good enough for me.”
There is so much of just passing on what we know, with no imagination that things could be better.
Here in Buddhism, we have an imagination that things can be better internally. And we can improve our conduct once we recognize there are options. We don’t usually talk about the external world. I’m saying now, as that world creates us, and we create it, we have a responsibility.
So Dogen says “To study the way with body means to study the way with your own body. It is to study the way with your own body, using this lump of red flesh. The body comes forth from the study of the way; everything that comes forth from the study of the way is the true human body.”
And so here in the middle of whatever is happening in our world, still we study the Way, and we practice the Way.
I think what practicing the Way means – I’m struggling with this a great deal. We know that sitting zazen is practicing the Way. We know that practicing kind speech is practicing the way, and that practicing kind speech can be pretty difficult. We know that kind action is practicing the Way. There’s been so much kind action in these days. I’m thinking of people who came down to Powderhorn, down to Lake Street, and helped clean up. They came from elsewhere. I’m thinking about the people who set up medic stations, who found housing for homeless people, and then set up an encampment at Powderhorn Park.
People who organized food and people who organized medical help. And people who organized counseling help and then people were looking for something that will last because staying in tents at Powderhorn Park just doesn’t last. I’m thinking of people who took to policing their own neighborhood when the police didn’t come. There are so many ways to serve, so many ways to do Right Action, so many ways in this time. What I found myself doing was suddenly teaching classes online, which I’d never even thought of. Offering the Dharma is always a way of practice.
This time is calling for something to stop. At the violence by police and the violence by white supremacists and the uprisings, we can see that there’s a calling to stop white supremacy to stop racism, in all its forms, and classism, I think capitalism, but anyway, to stop the brutality in which the billionaires have received more government funds than all the people who actually needed the money.
It’s an upside down world and we’re living through it. Some of us might feel at risk in it. We might feel like it’s dangerous to act. Danielle Frazier, the young woman who took the video of George Floyd – apparently she’s received a lot of criticism because she didn’t go over there and interfere with the police. She’s seventeen years old, African American, a high school student, and she said back to them, “Are you kidding? I would have been killed.”
Apparently that’s what all the other people watching thought too, I would have been killed. Or they thought, well, you can trust the police. But, but that one act that she did, putting on her phone to record what happened, it changed the world. I doubt that she had that in mind. But because whatever made her film and keep filming, because we have that film of clear and obvious criminality. Because of her action, we are seeing the rising of the New World. We are seeing white people trying to join in what people of color knew all along. And for us to recognize, we don’t know what specific action will matter. But to stop, To recognize that our actions do matter. And the text says, I am the beneficiary of my deeds, my deeds are the ground on which I stand. I’m adding, my deeds create the world in which I live,. My deeds create the true human body.
So there’s something that’s changing, there’s something that’s being called on to stop and right now we don’t know what will come of it. I think we’re called to act with kindness and with courage.
I never criticize people who take up guns on behalf of liberation. I don’t think it’s a wise course, but it’s not my life, it’s their life. I am unable to see what they are seeing.
Our actions create our selves. Our actions create the world. And the actions of people around us also create each other. It’s a fundamental Buddhist teaching.
I want to remember three people who’ve been killed recently.
First is my friend who was executed on Friday. His name is Dustin Honkin. He’d been in federal prison for maybe 20 years. He was trying to avoid being imprisoned for making and selling methamphetamine, which he was doing because he wanted more money because he had desires which resulted in too many children who he was trying to support – a clear link of causation. And to avoid prison he and his girlfriend killed five people including two children. I was his spiritual advisor for a while, when I lived in Indiana. His last letter says some things that I want to read.
Many people in life don’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones, they are snatched from life in an instant. I’m fortunate for this, and have done my best to utilize this time to let everyone know how I feel, and that my life was worth living because of them. Tomorrow I will go with love in my heart, and with a peace of mind that I love many, and am loved by many.
Sure, there have been hard times, but life itself is hard, whether in here or out there. I have had a chance to study, to self-introspect, to learn about many things and most importantly come to understand myself…. It is true I didn’t have the life I wanted to have, but the life I have had IS a life, one with many blessings from many places that I wouldn’t have ever expected.
There was a time in this civilization when it was considered a good thing to have a long illness before you died, because it gave you time to get ready. Dustin had that. He was executed for something he actually did. He was uncomfortable. He was relatively safe, and he was able to use that time to change.
George Floyd was murdered by the police on May 25. He had been into sports in high school and college, he was a rapper. Some time in those early days he said to his family “I’m going to change the world.” I don’t know what happened, but he spent some time in jail and prison for various offenses, the worst of them being armed robbery – he never killed anyone. And he kind of got religion. In his forties he was all about doing good things, being kind ot people, mentoring youth, volunteering. He left Texas to work in Minnesota with people he already knew up here. He was living, as far as I know an honest and upright life, or anyway an ordinary life, until that incident in which he was killed by Derek Chauvin. If it hadn’t been filmed we wouldn’t know. He didn’t have years to contemplate his life, though he clearly did some contemplating. He didn’t have lawyers filing lawsuits for months and years to delay his death. There were people shouting, but none of them intervened. The other police didn’t intervene. The medics did not come to offer first aid while he was dying on the pavement. There was not a minister to offer comfort in his last moments.
Privilege. Lack of privilege. Being murdered on the street. No matter by whom, is the opposite of the benefits that Dustin had. And the responses to George Floyd have included, on the one hand, beautiful creative activities, creation of community, fabulous art work, writing, and people learning. White people learning about racism, starting to actually listen to the Black people telling them about it, actually believing they don’t know everything and they have something to learn. And on the other hand we have white supremacy becoming more open than it has been for at least fifty years, institutional racism more overt. We have the Federal government using protests and lies about left-wing violence as an excuse to institute a police state, while their own evidence shows without a doubt that it’s the right wing causing the violence including actual killings. https://theintercept.com/2020/07/15/george-floyd-protests-police-far-right-antifa/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The+Intercept+Newsletter&fbclid=IwAR06mwXGMxvj_4gWKwvHVQtoeb7qwGfGnh5j-ezvptxfwhv3svrVD0auVDM
And then I want to mention the third person. His name is Domingo Choc. He was from Chimoy, Guatemala. He was in traditional healer, an expert in plant medicine and a practitioner of traditional Mayan religion.
“He was widely recognized for his contribution in the field of science and medicine and was a part of an international scientific research project on ancient Mayan medicines, He was working with the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the University College London in England, to document traditional Mayan knowledge of medicinal plants and herbal remedies.” reference
So he was killed for doing good. The people who killed them, they say, were fundamentalist Christians, both Evangelicals and Catholics, who said he was doing witchcraft. He was staying at a relatives. They came in the night, they pulled him out of the house, beat him all night, and set him on fire. He burned to death. And there were people who saw it and nobody came to rescue him. Probably because they would have been next. Fundamentalist Christians have been doing this kind of thing in Guatamala for decades. I happen to have read some things about the 1970’s – nothing so brutal, but I probably just missed it.
He had no minister, he had no medical help, he had no time to write beautiful statements. His whole life was a gift, it seems to me. And it seems like there’s an international outcry and some things might change, but any change that happens will be because of who he was, not because of brutality to a simple human being. Which is different from George Floyd, who was an ordinary guy with family and loved ones, murdered on the street.
A person like Domingo Choc, who was indigenous in the way that all of our ancestors once were indigenous, totally rooted in the earth, communicating with with plants – That’s dangerous to the machine. It’s dangerous. to what is ruling us now that pretends to be a democracy. He was more dangerous than the others, and he was punished more brutally. And the state didn’t even have to do it. Volunteers who thought they were Christian center thought he was a witch.
Let me go back to the Remembrances.
Growing old is ordinary. Getting sick is ordinary. Dying is ordinary. Everything changes. One of the things I think we can do in this time is accept that things change, and to use our actions to help those changes move in the direction of something more full of life. Joanna Macy talks about three levels of activism. One of them is stopping the machine, getting in its way, One of them is creating the new world, and one is just basic spiritual practice. To create the ground on which we can all stand. I think we need meditation more than ever in this time. Our sitting creates a ground that is less vulnerable to the violence, to the uncertainties – I don’t mean it’s physically less vulnerable. I mean that we create a field, we create the true human body as we allow it to create us. Our authentic response is called for. Our fear is part of that response. But this word from the Twelve Steps – they don’t say “we accept.”
This word from the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They don’t say they accept. Buddhism talks about accepting what’s offered. But in the first step they say “I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.”
I like that term admit because it’s being willing to know that things are the way they are. As my teacher says, to place your body on the ground of reality. Accepting can sound like not doing anything about it, just leaving it alone and minding my own business. But I think that to admit what’s happening, to support ourselves with zazen, to look for kind actions, to continue educating ourselves so that we can stop being the sources of trauma.
I ask you to join in the practice that is meeting the world that we’re in, in whatever way is your way.
Note: This is a talk I gave July 20, at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s edited only for accuracy and for references.
This is a quick note to let you know about some things happening that I haven’t mentioned before.
Today, Friday July 17, at 2:50 pm Central Time, some of us will be gathering online to chant on behalf of Dustin Honken, who is scheduled for Federal execution at that time. If you want a copy of the chants, email me, but it’s also fine to just witness. We’ll chant for about 20 minutes, and perhaps gather briefly afterward.
Sunday morning, July 19, I will give the Dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The talk will be online. We begin with a half hour of sitting meditation, 9:00 Central Time; the talk is at 9:30 am. Subject will be the Five Remembrances, with particular attention to death, racism, George Floyd, and the state of our culture.
These have already been announced; consider yourself invited:
has been modified so that we can come together safely. Each of us (person or family) will spend most of their time in relationship with a particular part of the land. That may be deep in the woods, up the hill, down by the creek, in the orchard or garden or right near the house. You’re invited to find yourself in that piece of ground, to fall in love with it, to care for it, and to let it nourish and heal you. We’ll come together on the lawn for meals, discussion, and sitting zazen together.
Fees are minimal, only covering outright expenses, yet there could be some work exchange.
Local people are welcome to come out and spend time on the land. You can walk in the meadow, orchard, woods, or by the creeks. If you’d like to do a land care project, you’re most welcome.
Personal visits, unless brief, usually involve working together in the garden or something. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. (It could involve harvesting, canning, freezing, or whatever we think is safe to do together.)
I’m also interested in hiring some people to do work, which mostly involves either gardening skills, muscles, or chain saws.
For any of these, email is best.
We’re now sitting together in the morning, Monday through Friday at 6 am Central Time (7 Eastern, 5 Mountain, 4 Pacific), and you are invited. Here is detailed information.
The Gift of Fearlessness: Sunday evenings at 4-5:15 pm Central Time. This discussion group started in response to the pandemic, and is now also contemplating the uprisings over racism and injustice. Best way to join is by emailing Shodo.
Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the freeing of the last slaves in the U.S. South. The Emancipation Proclamation was two and a half years earlier; the South fought on, and after Lee surrendered it still took two months for the news to reach Galveston, Texas. Black people have been celebrating this date ever since.
This year, in sobriety, respect, and hope, many are honoring this day regardless of color.
Sobriety: people who thought racism was in the distant past have been forced to see it alive and well. Despite having achieved perceived milestones in the war against racism like electing a Black president, we have seen the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and others in under a month’s time, plus hangings of six Black people between May 27 and June 18. And the absurd labeling of the hangings as suicides. And police brutality, finally visible to more than just its victims. Collectively,we are waking up from a dream that things were okay, a dream that Black, Indigenous, or any people of color were not able to join in. White people are looking into racism more deeply than before, probably more than since the early days of Reconstruction.
Respect for the conduct of so many people involved in the protests and memorials. While a few set fires or wave guns, thousands of people gather peacefully, and hundreds provide support services to protesters and to the people whose lives are changed by what’s happening.
And respect for the people from all parts of life, quietly making changes, studying, asking themselves what they can do differently, talking to their neighbors and family. I’m seeing a lot of serious work by people in the facebook “Whiteness and Anti-Racism Learning Group.” And elsewhere. Businesses calling the day off for study and reflection. Organizations dissociating themselves with racism. And respect for all the people who are making their best effort.
Hope: This is personal. I find hope in the creation of community in the midst of disaster, as people meet daily at Powderhorn Park throughout the crisis, as organizations provide food and basic needs, set up medic tents, share information, schedule community patrolling when the police are absent, create ceremony and art and beauty. I say, “This is who we are. We can do this.”
I find hope when the Parks Board declares that its parks are sanctuaries and refuges, open to those activities and to people made homeless one way or another.
Hope when City Council moves to deeply address problems of violence and racism in the department – and the media discuss how social services prevent crime. I find hope when support comes from unexpected places, from mayors taking down Confederate statues to businesses honoring Juneteenth to (seriously!) Popular Mechanics explaining how to safely topple a statue, Forbes running a series of articles against racism.
I find hope in the worldwide response, marches and protests against racism everywhere. I find hope in the media response, naming white supremacists and outside agitators, not immediately assuming they were all Antifa or anarchists.
A vision is forming, of a world in which every person’s dignity is respected, people are safe, and power comes more from people than from guns. It’s an old dream – but it’s shared in a new way, and that gives me hope. It won’t happen naturally; the backlash is visible and loud.
The dream of the Mountains and Waters Alliance names something beyond: “to heal the deep cause of the climate emergency in the rift between the dominant human culture and the whole of life on earth. Together with all beings, we protect and restore the living earth.” While the healing of racism wasn’t specifically named – and that was a mistake – it is inherent in our vision.
Acting with respect
Each of us finds our own way, specific to who we are and where we are. I’m doing these things:
I’m working to be anti-racist because I don’t think nonracism is a real thing. I follow the leadership of people of color. Rather than putting forth my own theories about what is happening, I’m listening closely to people who are actually from the neighborhood, and sharing their words when it seems appropriate. Rather than centering myself, I’m watching and listening while others lead.
May we be at peace. May we find joy in loving each other. May we respect each other’s freedom and dignity. May we find our home in the whole of humanity – and in all of life itself. May we be able to do what is needed, when the time comes. May we have freedom in our hearts.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
Mary Oliver’s words in “Wild Geese” came to me, surprising in this time of violence and burning. The world offers itself to your imagination. The world announces your place in the family of things. Even if it’s not the world we would choose, even if it’s frightening, the world calls to us and offers a place.
People are finding their place, right now, gradually or quickly. Some are offering kindness, some are creating community in the midst of the flames. Some are speaking, analyzing, inspiring. Some see themselves as building a new world, others see themselves as destroying the evils of the old. And I will not deny that the force called wetiko, the cannibal monster that consumes everything, is present and visible.
It was in my old neighborhood that George Floyd was killed. I followed events intensely. I wanted to analyze and write, wanted to offer a total understanding of what is happening here. Finally, after many hours and many pages, I let it go. It’s too soon to say. And others are doing well on offering the bits and pieces of understanding. I’ve assembled as much as possible on my Facebook page. What is being asked of me in these days is to teach Zen, to hold a calm place, and to care for the land. At this moment, the wind blows through the window and disrupts my many pages of notes and writings. I let them go.
Online there is a Zen study group Wednesday evenings, a discussion group Sunday afternoons, and zazen (meditation) Monday mornings. To get current information, email me to join the email announcement group.
Meanwhile, birds call, sun is shining, bean plants are up, strawberries flower, wind moves in the trees. Aware that it is a privilege to live in such a place, I also assert that this is the natural way of being human, to belong to the world. To refuse it would be a crime. To share it is imperative.
While the pandemic is still rising, and the future unknown, I extend some invitations.
And I ask you to do your meditative practices, walk outdoors, practice compassion, be a resource for those around you as the world shifts. The more intense things become, the more we need calm minds and hearts. As we each find our place in the family of things.
P.S. In 2017, I wrote an essay in response to the first summer of wildfires everywhere. I’m including it here, still relevant in the time of these other fires.
The world is literally burning. Flooding. Shaking. Melting. Erupting. The news of summer and fall 2017 has included one disaster after another, in everyone’s back yard, leaving our confidence in normalcy badly shaken.
The climate-caused weather events have put many of us into the state well-known by others for years – decades – centuries. Uncertainty is a way of life; sickness, starvation, and cold or heat threaten. Which reminds me that there have been whole peoples who were at ease with uncertainty. We call them hunter-gatherers, and they have been able to live at ease in places most of us find inhospitable – the Kalahari Desert, the Arctic. (1) The ease comes from not expecting certainty, not demanding even personal survival.
Daniel Quinn (2) writes about peoples who “live in the hands of the gods” versus those who attempt to take control of their surroundings. We live in the latter, even though as Buddhists we are taught impermanence. Impermanence is not not just an idea.
Taking refuge is not an idea either – it has become a vivid reality, especially for those evicted from their homes by wildfires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or wars. What’s new for me is that people I know personally are now among the refugees. Most of them will be okay, at some level, mostly because we live in a rich country and it will spend its resources on them – particularly if they are white and middle-class. Because our country (and others) keep out desperate refugees in order to protect our own people from having to share. Because those who make decisions on our behalf operate from the mind of separation. Eventually the riches will be used up, and we will have to rely on our neighbors.
The choice of Euro-American culture is still what it has been for a long time: to place our faith in our own ability to control nature. We replaced serfs with slaves, then with machines and chemicals – and have poisoned our food and depleted our soils, water, and air, which we regard as lifeless, as resources for human use. To live in this way, disconnected from everything around us, is a tragedy.
Thomas Berry puts it this way: “We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a result of that spiritual autism.” (3)
“We have shattered the universe.” That is a strong statement. But the universe that consists of wholeness, of inter-relation, of mutual co-creation – we shatter our experience of that universe, so it becomes ultimate reality but not lived reality.
The broken conversation includes breaking the conversation with each other. We blame each other, which escalates mutual blame makes it impossible to work together. It’s easy enough to notice white supremacists blaming Muslims and calling violence on peaceful African-American protesters. Yet environmentalists too have been separating into camps, accusing each other of being either complicit with the destruction or too aggressive. Those who agree on the situation but have different solutions (veganism versus holistic animal farming, for instance) seem to hate each other worst of all.
We find ourselves divided, alone. It’s the disease of the time. While the human assault on the natural world escalates. While almost none of us are talking with the rivers, trees, and mountains, or listening to them.
I’m learning, or trying to learn, to talk with them again. After two years of persistent effort, my habits have started to include asking for help from the hill. Noticing when I am out of communication. Making offerings to a certain old tree stump at the north gate of the land and to the water spirits of the river, building an altar at the east gate where the creeks come together.
In the spring of 2015 I was pulling up weeds in the orchard, working with Justin Rowland, a Lakota person with a traditional upbringing. He suddenly said “Those plants are very strong over here.” Then he added, “They communicate with each other.” Was my attempt to remove the weeds making them stronger?
I had assumed that if I worked hard enough I could eradicate the problem plants. It never occurred to me that, just as humans form defenses against outside assaults, the plant groups were strengthening themselves against my assault. To think of them as conscious – it changed everything. The question becomes: Can I pull up weeds and also be in conversation with them? If being in conversation comes first, how can I take care of this land – my accepted responsibility – and its many “invasive” plants and animals? How can I not be a victim of plant, animal, and insect bullies?
I had a dream in which there were a hundred people living at my seventeen-acre farm. Although we could possibly feed ourselves by intensive farming plus foraging the woods, there wasn’t enough food to carry us through the winter and spring until harvest. (Nor were there enough deer, squirrels, and rabbits.) It was completely obvious that it would be unfair to favor my own family – four of them were in the dream – and that the only fair thing would be to draw lots for who got the food – who survived. There was no question of my drawing those lots; the hard physical work would require strength I don’t have (said the dream).
I woke shaking. The dream has stayed with me for over a year now. About the children, and one daughter and her husband, there was only grief and faint hope. And yes, in waking life I did bargain with myself about whether I had skills that would be needed, that would get me into the survival lottery. My other daughter’s family, my niece and nephew, and others I loved – they were simply absent from the dream, with no idea whether they were alive or dead.
In the dream, people were thoughtful and respectful, a community working together to find a way to survive. No preference was given for wealth (my ownership of the farm) or status.
I actually think something like this will happen, only it will be harder: there will also be bands of hungry people coming from the cities; some will join us, some will have guns and will be willing to kill in order to eat. It might not happen; I don’t know when if it does, and I may never be ready.
The separate self wants to continue. Always. I may as well be kind to that urge in myself and in others.
There are the four seals of Buddhism. Impermanence, suffering, no-self, nirvana. Not accepting impermanence and no-self leads to suffering. Accepting them leads to nirvana. I wonder how this relates to Quinn’s “living in the hands of the gods.” Quinn’s image is from before civilization saved humans from constant uncertainty. In that earlier time, death was not an unusual thing or a disaster. I imagine it did not hurt any less personally, but the sense of outrage or unfairness might have been different. Since the change, humans have sought refuge in our own power, in our structures, in our ability to store grain – instead of in the offerings of the earth, the kindness of the universe. After 8000 years of agriculture, it’s hard to imagine what that would be like.
Where is refuge? Shohaku Okumura said to me once, in the early days when I was still obsessed with enlightenment, “Enlightenment means you have nothing at all that you can rely on.” (4) I take refuge in this teaching: there is nothing to rely on. I take refuge in Buddha, in the body of Buddha which is the whole universe. I take refuge in Sangha, the community of beings in the Way.
I don’t take refuge in money, or in status, or in material possessions, or in structures of civilization, or in economic transactions. No, however hard times may be, the refuge will be in reality and in community – in the hands of the gods.
Practice is more than refuge. Practice includes the four vows:
Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.
Every time we chant a sutra, we offer the energy of that chanting. Sometimes that offering includes these words: “We aspire to turn the Dharma wheel unceasingly and to free the world from every tragedy of war, epidemic, natural disaster and starvation.” I’ve chanted those words so often they’re ingrained in my skull. For a long time I never thought about them. Now they seem penetratingly brilliant. War – Syrian civil war, Israel-Palestine conflict, possible U.S. war with Iraq or with North Korea, genocide against the Rohinga (fall 2017), against Red Nations and other indigenous peoples (for centuries); the low-level wars waged against protesters of many kinds, labeled terrorists and hit with freezing water, rubber bullets, tear gas, arrests, and accusations. Epidemic – after disasters destroy infrastructure, cholera often follows. Natural disaster is in our face as I write: hurricanes and typhoons, floods, earthquakes, mudslides (Sierra Leone, 2017 August, 500 dead and 3000 displaced), drought, wildfires around the world. Starvation – yes, we can numb ourselves to the people starving everywhere, but with droughts there will be more starvation right here. Which is why people are cruel to refugees: they fear their own starvation, and they lack a bigger picture.
We chant “to free the world” but Zen practice has nothing to do with escape. Zen practice understands that there is no escape. It looks straight at the tragedy in the world, and points to freedom – whatever that means. It is not specific, except for not looking away.
At the 2016 Soto Zen priests’ conference, Hogen Bays gave a short talk titled “Nothing is amiss: the foundation for social action.” That names our situation. Nothing is amiss. The world does not need our fixing. Actually the idea of fixing (correcting, healing, saving) is an absurdity based on the mistake that there is something outside of us, or that we are outside of the rest of the universe.
Nothing is wrong. Everything is holy, the entire world is the temple, offered for our practice. And yet there is injustice, murder, disaster, oppression, every kind of horror we can imagine or not. How do we practice in this world as it is?
As a child, I found refuge in the natural world, in the wildest places I could find. My strongest memories from then are of that spring when I found the wild iris, and the years of returning again and again looking for them, until finally I had memorized their location, and knew they bloomed in May. Later there were hours at the local nature preserve: scrambling up a cliff above the creek, not sure how I would get down, very carefully finding each handhold and step. There’s a decade full of discoveries, one after another – a grassy hillside I hadn’t known before, the late afternoon sun reflecting on the creek, waves breaking onto the beach in a storm, the lake’s glassy quiet the morning after.
Those explorations were the life of my childhood years, the holy action that sustained me, the intimacy I knew. In those lonely years, that is how the support of all beings showed itself to me. And I hated people, in general, for every road and every bit of litter intruding on my refuge. As I learned to make my way in the world, for a long time that way included undiagnosed depression. Even though my life was secure in every physical way.
At age 35, I wandered into the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center and found something in zazen. I didn’t even know I was looking. Three years later in my first long sesshin, the world opened up. No longer was it only woods and waters that offered themselves to me. The internal walls started to crumble, and I could imagine meeting other people with the intimacy once reserved for rocks and wildflowers. The next journey of discovery began. Very gradually, sangha became essential. Sangha was the place where the remains of those walls simply were part of me, without shame or horror, and I could allow them to crumble at their own pace. Very gradually I also learned to allow others their own ruins and incompleteness.
Thirty years later I had fully entered the container of Zen, zazen, sangha. There was a ceremony called ordination – literally “homeleaving.” It’s hard to say what that ceremony was, but looking back it seemed to me that I was finally moving in the direction I had always intended. The power of ceremony should not be underestimated. From a home in delusion, I moved into the homeless state, toward a home that might be found in zazen and vow.
Near the end of formal priest training, sitting in practice period, I was inundated with literal visions – mental pictures on the wall during zazen – of myself walking along the Keystone pipeline route. I sought counsel, prepared for a year, and then walked that route through the Great Plains with a few companions. Afterward people asked what we had accomplished, and I had no answer. All I knew was that we were changed. We had brought our human, imperfect presence to a pending tragedy, we allowed the earth and sky to nourish us, and offered back what we could – one part of a vast movement to protect land and peoples. Much later the pipeline was canceled – briefly – and some people gave us credit. But cause and effect is not so literal. What was that about, and why did I have to do it?
The story I told myself about that walk was that it was a ceremony, a three-month, 1700-mile ceremony, honoring and blessing the earth, receiving and giving to that which encompasses our lives. The imagery is not quite Buddhist: regarding earth and waters as sentient beings, conscious and intentional, is to invent a persona for them – as we invent for ourselves. I choose to make this mistake rather than the usual mistake of regarding them as insentient, inert, unwilling or unable to act. We make our own meanings, those of us who don’t yet see clearly, and this meaning helps me, it helps my heart be open. In my story, the earth called, I didn’t say no, and everything unfolded from there.
I live now in a semi-wild place. The hill to the north is a sanctuary, a place that feels like magic, power, sacredness. Once someone was planning to build a house up there – right next to “my” land – ruining its wildness, desecrating its sacredness. After talking with zoning officials proved useless, I went out and walked on the hill, asking it for help, asking to protect itself. It seemed that I could hear the trees saying yes. Even the buckthorn, who must know that I plan to tear them up, seemed to give support. Then I waited. Two years later there is no house. The zoning has changed so that land seems to be protected. Although nothing is certain, my fear is gone.
For a long time – maybe this years – my life has been organized around a vow to stop climate change – without knowing what that can mean. In 2015 I created an organization, named “Mountains and Waters Alliance,” and think of it as an alliance of sentient beings committed to protect and restore the earth. Its members are more trees, bluffs, waterfalls and flowers than they are human beings – because asking humans is still hard for me. I include them in morning service, in the dedication of merit after chanting. I ask them for help, and I long to visit them more often.
This past June, walking on a mountain, talking with new beings, I was offered a teaching: There’s nothing I need to do. The deep powers of the earth have it in their hands. It’s not up to me.
It felt as if a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders. I returned home and was physically sick for a month – which may be a measure of how invested I was in my identity as activist. I’m moving slowly since then. It’s as if every step I take has to be discovered, tested. What is my intention? If I think I’m saving the world, solving a problem, anything like that, it’s a mistake. If I think I can sit idly at home, or even in the zendo, that might well be a mistake too: turning the Dharma wheel does not look like disengagement.
My story now is about making offerings to the earth, both ceremony and physical labor, and asking for help with everything. Absolutely everything, small and large, personal and world-wide.
Cause and effect can’t be known. We throw an action like a pebble into a pond, and watch the ripples. On the KXL there were a thousand pebbles, only one of them mine, cause and effect impossible to discern. Still, life itself impels us to act. We are the ripples, more than the pebbles. We are both.
How do we relate to the world around us? We offer ourselves, as intimately as possible, in whatever situation presents itself. To make an offering is to be alive to the other.
I went to testify at hearings on a pipeline, intended to run through Northern Minnesota, through tribal lands, wild rice beds, and the clearest water in the state. The company building it has a reputation for accidents. My words won’t make the difference. Why did I need to go? I needed to make that offering, to speak this Dharma in this context, with environmental activists and government officials and even pro-pipeline people.
We relate by receiving offerings too.
Once I found an aliveness in the woods. Now I find it in the untamed space called zazen – and in human community, and still also in woods, hills, starry skies, gardens and flowers and small beings. This receiving brings enormous gratitude, and also a desire to protect. I long to see humans relating to the natural world as part of it, as family, and not as something to use, dominate, or conquer. I want to share that this is a joyful and wonderful way to live.
I think that if we created a human society that lives this way, we would take care of the earth and walk back from the brink of climate catastrophe as well as from war, inequality, and oppression of all kinds. But that is to propose that an enlightened society could actually exist in the realm of illusion. Buddhist teaching wouldn’t support focusing on such a society as a concrete goal. This is not quite the same as the way conventional wisdom opposes such a thought, saying human nature is selfish and violent. Those are not inherently Buddhist thoughts, but the ground of our own culture which is destroying a planet where humans lived for a hundred thousand years.
When we stop imagining that we are alone, life becomes possible. I am going to go out on a limb and say that to practice is to join the conversation, to live in the conversation with all beings – with wind and stars, rivers and mountains, prairies and woodlands. There we are never alone, never responsible for the whole outcome of any endeavor, never victim or even perpetrator. Here, we are simply and intimately part of the whole of life. Everything we meet breathes life into us and is, in turn, created by us. We become soft and fluid, our hearts open and alive. And our guidance in practice emerges of its own accord.
(1) Suzman, James. Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen. Bloomsbury, 2017. The book is a description of lifestyle of Kalahari Bushmen (San) including their adaptation to European invasion. The mention of the Arctic comes from observations and from conversations with Inupiaq elders in the NANA region of Alaska, during the winter of 1990-91.
(2) Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. Bantam, 1992. p. 240ff.
(3) Thomas Berry. http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives/081001/081001a.htm – “Diagnosing spiritual sickness,” paragraph 1.
(4) Okumura, Shohaku. personal conversation. At Hokyoji Zen Monastery, 1990’s.
The problems with the online groups have been resolved. The links on the website now work for joining Zoom groups. Briefly, here’s what’s coming up.
Wednesday April 29, 6:30-8 pm – Zen study group. Here is the Zoom link We are currently working with the book Living by Vow; details on the event page. If you would like to come for the first time, please email Shodo. It’s okay to come before you have the book. Please note that we’re skipping a week.
Life has been intense and busy; I’m working from home, offering additional groups, and writing. Here are some thoughts on the pandemic; there will be more.
We’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. I was there 50 years ago, with my husband and infant daughter, in the college gym. Senator Gaylord Nelson had said “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.” Zero Population Growth was pushing for people to have just two children. There was so much enthusiasm, so much hope, so much energy.
It seems lifetimes ago. If I’d even remotely imagined that we would be HERE, now, I would have done something. But I believed that government worked, business leaders were honest, and technology could solve everything.
I wish I could have those simple easy beliefs back, but reality intervened. We are now paying the price for that naivete that we all preferred – and for not saying NO to things that were obviously unworkable.
We are facing life and death. Sure, we always have, but now it’s impossible to ignore. Things are uncertain and unpredictable – they always have been, but the scale is worse. Sooner or later, each of us will die, as will those we love – we cannot rely on anyone or anything. Taking care of our actions is a way to be steady, to be stable, to be calm – as well as to contribute to our world.
The Coronavirus attacks the lungs. Lungs are grief – in Chinese medicine. Grief is frozen sorrow, piercing sadness with a cause. There’s an association with injustice in the history of the word.
I was thinking about our collective grief, our unspoken mourning for the loss of the world we once lived in, for the liveliness that we remember in our daily lives, for the many individuals dying and species ending. Here now, with the virus, here is a mourning, here is a whole people mourning with our bodies. Here is a whole people giving up our entertainments (reluctantly) and contemplating how we might care for each other, how we might collectively survive and heal…. We are mourning with our lungs, with our coughs, with our fevers.
We live in a time of immense grief, and also fear.
Some grief is obvious. Climate change may kill us all, we mourn the loss of a future, or of a beautiful future for our children and grandchildren. I miss drinking water directly from a lake, I miss the woods where I grew up roaming wild, and the safety to do so as a child. So many have much more to grieve: murdered indigenous women; Covid-19 striking African-Americans hardest; chronic illnesses related to environmental factors. Wars. Health problems. Poverty. Violence against immigrants, against people of color, against women, against trans people.
But I want to go back further, and deeper. I want to say,
The core grief is that we don’t trust the world in which we live. We think we have to manage it. Like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God. We have to be God, because we no longer trust the gods – or God, or the spirits, or the plants and animals and mountains and rivers. We are on our own. We are orphans. There is no mystery, no unknowable. And we are not God, or gods. We are humans with powerful technology who deny that anything is still holy.
I don’t mean that you and I deny it. I mean our culture denies it.
This is tragic. We are cut off from most of life.
In this culture, humans are like gods. We have the right to use everything, consume what we want, build, pave, ship, plow, create. We even create new forms of life through genetic engineering. And we are the only ones that matter. If we kill other humans en masse, we call it genocide; if we kill animals en masse we call it food production, and if we kill forests, prairies, ecosystems en masse we call it progress.
Most of the people in the history of the world have lived a different way. We call them hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or horticulturalists. The Garden of Eden gives a picture of that way of life. Being thrown out to do agriculture was a curse, but it was the natural result of trying to be gods, refusing the gifts freely offered.
“Living in the hands of the gods” is a term invented by Daniel Quinn to describe these people. In the hands of the gods, you are part of a community that includes more that just human beings. You have a right to exist, and so does everything else. You can compete with the other beings for food and space, but you can’t wage war on them.
Humans lived well in this way for millennia. Like other top predators, they lived by culling the old and sick from the herds of other animals around them, and from gathering the surplus of plants, while carefully maintaining the well-being of the host population. Like other animals and plants, in case of drought, flood, or blizzard some of them would die. They did not expect otherwise.
In a recent example, the Menomonie of Wisconsin have profitably managed a forest for timber products since 1860. The forest is healthier now than when they began. Humans know how to do this. Our culture does not. A few of us do, as a whole we have not a clue. We know how to control, not how to participate. And this is our great sadness.
We live in a culture that does not know how to be part of the family. We are estranged. We are desperate for control, because we can’t trust. The tragedy is that, like a traumatized child grown up, we can’t see that there is kindness and love in the world. And so collectively, for survival, we become the bullies of the world, where personally we would never willingly bully anyone.
(I have a smart phone. I know it’s made unsustainably with rare earths. I know it’s made by child slaves who are poisoned by the elements in it. I know that someone invented a cell phone that was neither of these, and it’s being test marketed in Europe. And my phone is incredibly convenient. It exceeds the most extreme fantasies of the science fiction I read in the 1960’s. The science fiction didn’t usually mention slaves or sustainability. I make excuses for having the phone. My guilt helps no one.)
Deaths of people, animals, and oceans are woven into our daily life so deeply that avoiding them would be a full time job. This is pain. This is the hole in our society, the hole in our hearts, the reason lung problems and heart problems are the major killers in America. This is the hole we have to cover up in order to go on with our lives.
The pandemic is helping us with that. It gives us permission to be sad about dying, sad about the people who are taking risks, and permission to be angry at the injustice of who does and who doesn’t get help, angry at those who profit. And some of us are stuck at home, with our families or alone, with time. Time to read, time to create, and time to give to others. Mask making, mutual aid societies, free concerts and donations of all kinds – something is flowering, in the middle of stress and of death.
It may be that great changes will come, as they did after the Black Death in Europe. May they be changes of more kindness and not of more control. May we act in a way that creates more kindness.
We live this day as well as we can. With kindness for ourselves and others. Taking care of what needs to be done – make food, wash the dishes – who needs attention – our families, our selves – and letting that create our lives. Today’s actions create the self who wakes up the next morning.
Here is where we come back to the Five Remembrances. I am of the nature to grow old, to have ill health, to die. Everything and everyone around me will change and I will lose them. Only my actions are reliable. My deeds are the ground on which I can stand.
That sounds a little solitary. “My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” We might understand that our friends and children and husbands and wives are with us. We might understand that our congregation is with us. We might organize a community mutual aid society, or feel grateful or angry at the actions of the state or the nation. But mostly we don’t think of ourselves as part of a family that includes flies and ground squirrels, deer and maple trees, the Cannon River, the Great Plains, the wheat and the buckthorn and the clouds in the sky. It just doesn’t occur to us.
There have been people – through most of the history of earth, actually – who did experience themselves as part of that family. Some of the relatives were annoying and troublesome, some were kind and generous, some had to be appeased or pacified and then they would be kind or helpful.
I propose that as we take our individual and family and community actions, we understand that we are not acting alone. And I can’t tell you what action is yours. I can only observe. A whole group of people here are checking in with other members every week. A whole group of people are doing heroic work in making services happen online – nine people met yesterday for over an hour to make today happen. Kristin gave us another year so we don’t have to search for a new minister during this time. A lot of people are sewing masks and giving them away. I know someone who recovered from the virus and is going back to work on an ambulance. Doctors, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, grocery workers, shoppers are keeping things going. Farmers are growing food, and organizing to get it to people – they’re building an alternative economy that will be more trustworthy than the centralized one. And so many people are simply changing their lives in very uncomfortable ways, to not endanger people they love.
Organizations and unions are agitating to protect those workers from the risks that wouldn’t be happening if we had decent government – and state governments are stepping up to the challenge. There are quiet conversations everywhere about what to do if martial law is declared, if how to resist the outrages already happening. People are singing in the streets, having dance parties, taking care of each other, staying home to protect each other. People are offering classes and meditation and concerts online free, for donations. Water protectors and land defenders are finding creative ways to continue resisting; Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light continues to work on stopping Line 3 in northern Minnesota. People are gathering online to talk with each other; I’m hosting one of those gatherings every week, and a Zen study group. People are studying and sharing ideas: Barbara’s last blog post was about this, I’m writing about it. We do whatever we do. We’ll never be the same.
Our actions create our selves, and so do the actions of those around us, including people, plants, animals, stars… we’re all creating each other, that’s how the world works. Our deeds – all together – our deeds create the ground on which we stand, and on which our future can be built. Our deeds are building that future – all of us.
I’d like to end with a quotation from David Abram, which says this in very poetic language:
The animate earth around us is far lovelier than any heaven we can dream up. But if we wish to awaken to its richness, we’ll need to give up our detached, spectator perspective, and the illusion of control that it gives us. That is a terrifying move for most over-civilized folks today — since to renounce control means noticing that we really are vulnerable: to loss, to disease, to death. Yet also steadily vulnerable to wonder, and unexpected joy.
For all its mind-shattering beauty, this earth is hardly safe; it is filled with uncertainties, and shadows — with beings that can eat us, and ultimately will. I suppose that’s why contemporary civilization seems so terrified to drop the pretense of the view from outside, the God trick, the odd belief that we can master and manage the earth.
But we can’t master it — never have, never will. What we can do is to participate more deeply, respectfully, and creatively in the manifold life of this breathing mystery we’re a part of.
The Sunday discussion group is settling into a lovely pattern and a comfortable size. New people are still welcome, especially your friends; we won’t be doing broad publicity right now.
The reading for this week is Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” which offers deep hope about what the coronavirus could become, while not denying realistic worries. We’ll read it to each other in the group, but you’re invited to read it now as well.
Meanwhile, the Introduction to Zen group will have its last Wednesday meeting, and will decide whether to continue as a study group.
I’m considering starting online zazen, once a week, Monday morning 6 am Central Time. Let me know if you’re interested. (I sit every morning, but this would mean committing to the exact time and to setting up a Zoom room.)
The Navajo Nation is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, and has asked for prayers this weekend, Easter weekend.
They started at sunrise Saturday with fires, drumming, prayers, and songs. Please join in any way and time that works for you, and please share. I am including them in my morning chanting, have a fire going outdoors, and am inviting others to this prayer.
I wasn’t able to post their beautiful graphic, but here are words from it:
An enemy has hit the Navajo Rez, called COVID -19. Over 500 testing positive, 22 deaths, both increasing. They have established a mitigation plan, a 57 Hour CURFEW, from Friday 8 pm to Monday 5 am, April 10-13.
Our medicines are stronger than a virus. We don’t need another Trail of Tears or Long Walk.
The request is to light our Medicines, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, pipes, sweats, prayers, lite a fire, make offerings, keep fire going all weekend, sing our songs, let our drums be heard.
Pulses of Spiritual prayers sent all weekend long directed to the Navajo Nation, all day Saturday, throughout Saturday night, all day Sunday until Sunset.
Please send this on to all your contacts worldwide. We want thousands, in all languages, to pray. We are all interconnected.
I know you will do this, because of the intergenerational trauma we all know about. Please…..Please…Please!
I’ve updated the links for events “The Gift of Fearlessness” Sunday afternoons, and “Introduction to Zen” Wednesday evenings.
For either, go to https://zoom.us/my/shodo
I strongly encourage an extra 5 minutes to deal with accessing the site. You do NOT have to download Zoom.
I’d like to invite you to either or both of two Zoom groups:
Sundays at 4 pm Central Time beginning today, March 22. Details here; link to the meeting room is here: https://www.zoom.us/meeting/180323263. If you don’t already have Zoom on your computer, come early and install it.
Wednesday evenings starting 3/25, 6:30-8 pm Central Time, replacing the retreat we weren’t able to have. Details here.
I’m still learning to work with Zoom, so I’ll post the link soon, and send to you if you register. I believe it will be the same as the other one.
Both groups are offered freely. Their website pages have a donation link for those who wish.
Thank you all!
Dear Friends of Mountains and Waters Alliance:
There is a pandemic. We do not know what is coming, or how long it will last. This is just a note with a few practical thoughts.
We’ve closed down all group activities here. This leaves more time for writing, meditation, land care, energy healing – the core activities. I invite you to a few things:
Please honor the safety restrictions. It’s a pandemic, there’s no herd immunity, and the last time we had one of these (1918) a lot of people died. Though I’m not personally worried, I’m following guidelines (mostly staying home) in order to protect others. It is possible to transmit the virus before having symptoms.
If you’re local and need help of some kind, let me know. I expect to go out once a week. If you would like to come and walk in the woods or work outdoors, you’re more than welcome.
I’m very aware of relying on the internet. If it were to crash, I would lose my phone service as well.
I’ll write more later; trying to get this out now.
So alive. So warmly connected, deeply peaceful. I was a little in love with the group and especially the speakers and leaders of the ceremony this morning. The space was timeless.
It was called “Faith Action at the Capitol.” Mentioned the 227 water crossings of the planned Line 3 pipeline, a bigger replacement for the crumbling Line 3 pipeline, bigger and traveling through new places, lakes and streams and wild rice beds, through watersheds draining into Lake Superior (to all the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean) and the Mississippi (to the Gulf of Mexico). Minnesota Department of Commerce says we don’t need this, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency can still ask for more information, but Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is determined to go forward with an unneeded pipeline.
We read the watersheds, the streams and lakes, and the names of animals and plants endangered by this poison of civilization. We passed ribbons back symbolizing the streams of water. Thirteen of us read, nearly a hundred listened and prayed along with us. Sometimes we came to a place I knew, and sometimes I wept, seeing others weeping as well. When we reached the Nemadji River I just completely lost it. I had lived on that river for a year, visited it for several more, built a cabin, expected to make my home there. I wept with my whole body.
And at the close the sense of peace, the sense of warm, loving energy. I can’t find words.
There’s a video of that whole part of the ritual. It’s over an hour long, but you can listen to what parts you want. The reading of water crossings begins about twenty minutes in. Video of the whole ceremony is found on the Facebook page; scroll down to “all videos” and look for February 19.
Does prayer change anything? I assert that it does, that prayer and ceremony, including the stillness of meditation, restructure the nature of reality. Gratitude does this. Love does this. Yet I would never say to only do prayer and not do lobbying, voting, civil resistance, and tangible acts creating the new world (such as foraging, gardening, building soils, helping each other, every act of community.)
And there we are. I encourage you to watch at least some of the video. If you have 80 minutes, watching it all could be a way of participating, of spreading the ceremony across days and miles.
There’s an invitation from MNIPL for more Line 3 action:
Minnesotans – sign the Climate Emergency online petition
Look here for other action options, including submitting a comment to the MPCA (which could halt the pipeline), attending public hearings March 17 or 18, or joining the Water Protector Tour March 27-29.
Here is a comprehensive 80-minute talk on climate risks and reality, by Kritee (Kanko), a climate scientist and Zen teacher. It’s really clear. Having talked deeply with Kritee, I trust her. It’s okay to share the talk. I encourage viewing parties.
Potlucks are thriving; March 15 and April 19 are the next – at the farm, 5:30 Sunday evenings, followed by a film or speaker.
Introduction to Zen – a short weekend-retreat, March 21 and 22. Saturday morning workshop can stand alone or is followed by a weekend of meditation, work, eating together, and so forth. If you like what I’ve been offering, you might come to part or all of this to learn the roots.
If you want to tap sugar maples, help make meditation cushions, garden or forage or get involved in local prayer activism, please contact Shodo about getting onto the local email list.
Donation requests: So many groups are doing so many good things – here are two groups doing pipeline resistance, protecting earth and water, up north and here in Minnesota.
Please vote: For climate, environment, justice, human rights, please do vote in your primary or caucus.
Thank you all for being there. Especially I thank those of you who donate or give time and thoughts.
Shodo for Mountains and Waters Alliance
It may be that 2019 will be remembered as the year climate disaster became real for ordinary people in the United States. Because the news media brought us Australia burning, in a way they have not brought Asia and Africa as they burn or drown or starve. Naturally, 2020 must then be the year we take action. On climate, but also on the fascism creeping around the globe. Will we?
These questions come from Derrick Jensen, fifteen years ago. I offer them to you.
I spent too much of my life thinking I was too small to make change, being afraid of what would happen if I stood up, and every now and then had a miserable failure. Then, just once, I followed the voice in my heart that said “do this.” In 2004 I led a public sitting outside of both political conventions (Boston and New York) and walked from one to another with a group of anarchists. It was hard. I was exhausted. And I learned what it was like to follow the inner calling instead of ignoring it.
The result was that later, when I had mental images of walking along the KXL route, I was able to do it. The preparation was miserable, the walk was wonderful, miserable, and often both at once. And I was alive, so alive that I barely knew how to cope when the walk ended.
Now I’m engaged in this great, unreasonable undertaking: to heal the consciousness of my civilized world, and to form a powerful alliance with beings that I used to think of as resources. I’ve wanted to give up so often – sometimes it’s only the Advisory Council that keeps me going – but here I am. And things are beginning to turn, just a bit. In books, poems, essays, organizations, I hear so many of my own thoughts and words. The wind is blowing us all, leaves on the wind.
Once you’ve tasted this way of life – embracing the largest most pressing problem – nothing else will satisfy.
I’m working on a book, and am setting aside as many other activities as I can. Hemera Foundation gave me a small grant to support study and teaching; I’ll use it for both. At the same time, opportunities to work with other humans are exploding: Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light in support of Honor the Earth and indigenous pipeline resistance; an informal group of Zen priests concerned about climate disaster; an online discussion group about “what to do about climate”, and more. Not alone. And you are there, too.
Here are 2020 events and plans, updated from the November listing. They’ll be on the website soon. March 21-22: Introduction to Zen. April 30-May 4: 5-day sesshin. June 25-30: 5-day sesshin at Hokyoji. July 24-26 land care retreat, September 24-29: 5-day sesshin. November 30-December 7: Rohatsu sesshin. Plus monthly potlucks (sign up for email reminders), a few work projects like maple sugaring and some plantings, and who knows? Visitors (one is planning now, others welcome), and the regular practice of morning zazen, outdoor time, and daily life. Local talks are also on the website.
In January I led two retreats in Atlanta, speaking about practicing with climate change, and the first talk is on the website now.
I invite you to donate to something that could matter a lot in the world of protecting land and water. Ken Ward, one of the “valve turners” – people who physically cut off the flow of oil on certain cross-border pipelines and then wait to be arrested – will be on trial February 10-14. He will be allowed to present the “necessity defense” – the defense of breaking a law because a greater good is being served. If you follow environmental legal affairs, you know that it’s exceptional to be able to present the necessity defense. It’s a great opportunity.
They need to raise another $8-10k to cover experts’ expenses, and other trial support. “Please add a note designating the donation for Ken Ward’s legal fund.” https://climatedefenseproject.org/donate/
And they are asking for supporters in the courtroom, February 10-14, 9-5 at Skagit County Superior Court, 205 W Kincaid St, Mount Vernon, Washington 98273 See the Facebook page.
Take a few minutes each day to settle into your body, enjoy your breath, offer patience to your faults and to your difficulties. Step outdoors and say hello to a tree, a bird, a raindrop, a stone – recognizing them as fellow beings. (It’s okay if you have to pretend to recognize them. Try it.) Let them say hello to you too. If you find yourself in conversation with them, follow it. Know that we are all in this together.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance