- 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.
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,
Last night the potluck group listened to Morris Berman on “Why America Failed.”
Halfway through I was wondering why I did this. By the end I remembered.
But first let me mention this: most of the hour consisted of an overview of what’s wrong. (This talk was pre-Trump, by the way, but you could already see which way we were going.) It wasn’t new to the people in the room last night, but it might be new to you. If you think things are okay (or were until Trump) please listen to this talk and pay close attention.
The smaller of the reasons would be his stark assessment of personal options, during the question period. He outlined three: (1) Change the system – forget that, can’t be done. (2) Leave the country if you can. (3) Within this country, try to make a space that will be more human-friendly during the collapse. Which of course is what is happening here, in the local small-farming community which includes us.
Giving up on the thought of system change is depressing. Recently I listened to my friend Beth about when she gave up on system change in Palestine – and the personal implications of that. She went to work with dying people after that, for many years. I won’t try to share more about it, because listening made me more aware of how hard I cling to hope.
The big reason is the analysis of why we’re like this; why America, of all the world’s nations, persists in cruelty to everyone who is not “us” AND destroying the planet AND let’s not do the long list of outrages – latest being the border wall “emergency” and before that the cruelty to migrants – but this talk was during the Obama presidency.
Why are we like this? It’s about identity, he says. We define ourselves by our enemies. We have defined ourselves against the British oppressors, against the [pick your adjective] indigenous, against the evil Mexicans, against the Communists, against the Fascists, against the Nazis – who are we? Of course that is the “white people” we. It tells us why, these days, the leadership of environmental protection is with indigenous people. They have a community, they have an identity that is not about being against something. Of course many of them have the disease too, but there’s a core that holds. Maybe that’s what attracts so many of us white people, settlers, colonizers – just to feel a wholeness that we haven’t known.
If that sounds like someone else, think again. I’ve had many identities in this lifetime, and the last few decades have defined myself against patriarchy, capitalism, militarism, racism, heterosexism, industrial civilization…. and who am I but a member of all those groups? Stopping climate change – stopping the root causes of climate change – my enemy? My self-definition? Where, then, is peace and wholeness? Who am I?
This is a question, or perhaps a project. First, to notice what’s missing in our own experience of the world. We can realize that we are the hungry ghosts of Buddhism (always hungry, impossible to satisfy), or the wetiko described by Jack Forbes (warped, cannibalistic… ) First, know something is missing, then learn how to find it. That’s the process called “decolonization” for those of us who became colonizers. It’s hard and people usually do it badly.
I’ll say that Zen practice has given me a sense of identity as a part of the universe. And a peace I didn’t have before. I will not say that’s the answer; it helps me a bite. Needing to study this – well, sesshin is next weekend, I’ll place that personal wound on the altar and just be present with it, allow myself to settle down with it.
And that’s what I have to offer this week.
Next month’s potluck will listen to a talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Nourishment.
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 email@example.com 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.
As I prepared to post the study group piece on mindfulness, I learned that the Canadian police have invaded the Unistoten Camp in British Columbia and arrested 14 people. For ongoing news as well as background information, see Unistoten.camp/.
Why do I post this? Our intention is to change our hearts to become part of the whole community of earth, and to work together to protect, sustain, and replenish the community of life. This should be natural – but in our time it is not. The earth is being destroyed in a thousand ways, and those who defend it are targets. The destruction is an important part of the contact of Mountains and WAters Alliance. We stand with defenders of earth and water.
If you can help in some way, please do. On the webpage, look for “support” to find many useful actions, some as small as sending an email.
“Go ahead, light your candles, burn your incense, ring your bells and call out to the Gods but watch out, because the Gods will come. And they will put you on the anvil and fire up the forge and beat you and beat you until they turn brass into pure gold.” ~ Author Unknown
This writing is for those whose intention is holy. Who are committed to service. Who are willing to turn their lives over to the powers beyond human – by whatever name, here called The Gods – and be used for whatever is most needed by The Whole. That probably means you. If you doubt yourself, it still probably means you. Only if it sounds silly should you exclude yourself from this.
Stories come to mind, of people who have made that commitment, but there are too many. Please share yours, here in the comments. I offer mine, for starters.
I grew up in love with the natural world, and mostly excluded by my peers. My parents were good people, religious, with no psychological or social understanding of how to help me. (Years later I realized how much they loved and treasured me – fortunately while they were still alive.) So the beginning of my commitment would be whenever I started to see myself as an actor in the world. That would be late high school. There’s a marker: in 12th grade, applying for a summer research program at a college, I remember saying “I want to understand everything, and I want it to be useful.” I thought that meant physics, and I didn’t know its use. Later I saw that it meant Buddhism, and the use is evolving.
There were two markers after that. In 2004, not knowing how to respond to political evil, I went to sit zazen (meditation) in public outside both the conventions. It was hard, and I was tired. And, walking from Boston to New York with an anarchist group. I learned that walking is home. In August 2011 I went to Washington with 350.org and got arrested at the White House. I stayed for a week, and on the other days mostly I sat zazen facing each day’s protest. One day I did walking meditation at the protest site. One day, as the only visible Buddhist, I led the group in metta (lovingkindness) meditation, and found it well received.
That September, during formal monastic training, while sitting in the zendo, there were pictures in my mind, pictures of walking along the KXL pipeline with a group of people. The pictures wouldn’t go away. I checked it out with teachers and advisors, and gradually concluded that I should do it. My own teacher simply said “Wait until you have Dharma Transmission.” Another year. The Compassionate Earth Walk happened in 2013.
The Walk itself was very hard, and I was often angry. The walkers talked about why it was so hard, and concluded that our proposal to heal the culture had invoked its faults in our group life. This was some consolation but it was still terribly hard.
I asked myself, again and again, what I could have done differently, what could have made it better. Yet I have never felt so alive, before or since, as when I was fully engaged in that work.
That is the point of this post: the experience of responding to the call is difficult. It is painful. It is full of “what I did wrong” or “what should I have done differently?” or “what a failure I am.”
“the Gods will come. And they will put you on the anvil and fire up the forge and beat you and beat you until they turn brass into pure gold.”
The matter of feeling inadequate is part of the process. It would be nice if we could refrain from beating ourselves up over our inadequacies. But it goes like this: we commit to doing something that is larger than our capacity. We do it – well or badly – and in the process, because our intention is pure, every single flaw is pushed in our face.
That is how it works – becoming more able for the next part of the work.
Two closing thoughts:
If you can recall yourself as part of the whole rather than an independent actor, it helps with those thoughts. There is no such thing as an independent actor; every one of us is a product of the entire world, embedded in it and supported by it. As are our flaws.
The awareness of the flaws is an essential part of the process. Still, there is kindness. Be good to yourself. Take care of yourself. Seek support from friends, see a therapist, get enough sleep, good food, calm and joy in your life.
To be continued.
Paul Kingsnorth‘s essay Dark Ecology begins with a contemplation of the scythe so lovely that I want to run outside right now and grab the scythe. Of course I would have to sharpen it first, and it’s not exactly the season. But, he says, a weed whacker or brush hog isn’t really more efficient than a scythe on the human scale, we’re just conditioned to think it is because it’s noisy and complex. Ivan Illich wrote about what he called “tools for conviviality” – they make us human – the scythe is one of those. The beauty of his words reminded me of why I have those old-fashioned saws and pickaxes and really would rather not use the lawn tractor.
Kingsnorth moves on to reflections on Theodore Kaczynski, whose writings he’s reading, and observes how he became the Unabomber. It was interesting to read his thoughts. LIke him, I was very uncomfortable at the thought of sharing anything at all with the Unabomber. But I do. And perhaps it’s that discomfort that leads him to ask the question of what to do. I find his response very similar to my own, so I’m sharing it here.
I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers:
One: Withdrawing. If you do this, a lot of people will call you a “defeatist” or a “doomer,” or claim you are “burnt out.” They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere, and that “fighting” is always better than “quitting.” Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.
Two: Preserving nonhuman life. The revisionists will continue to tell us that wildness is dead, nature is for people, and Progress is God, and they will continue to be wrong. There is still much remaining of the earth’s wild diversity, but it may not remain for much longer. The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on earth, and you are part of it. What can you do—really do, at a practical level—about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something that isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?
Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.
Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one life-form among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this “ecocentrism” or “deep ecology,” do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig in the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be. Value it for what it is, try to understand what it is, and have nothing but pity or contempt for people who tell you that its only value is in what they can extract from it.
Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?
Morris Berman: Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline.
There are two difficult matters here. The first, obviously, is that he says America is already a failure. To me, that’s painful but admitting it is also a kind of relief. I’m more interested, though, in his point about how America had to fail.
America – the United States – was founded by people who defined themselves in opposition to something else. Pilgrims seeking freedom of religion. Etc. Americans rebelling against Britain. Berman says, when you define yourself negatively rather than positively, you need an enemy in order to have a sense of self. Let me repeat that: When you define yourself negatively (as what you are not), in order to have a sense of self you need an enemy.
Is that what we do, as a culture? Does this explain Trump, and the left-wing resistance, and feminism, and so forth and so on? (Distinguish this from movements based on “Do not kill my people” and you get a feeling.
Life must have its own meaning. We, as individuals and as a society, need an identity.
This is what I’m thinking about right now.
We live in difficult times. I started to list the events of the week, and gave up – there were too many and it was too depressing. Environmental (loss of species), climate (extreme weather events around the world), politics (fascist president elected in Brazil), and here in the U.S. increasing violence stoked by a President who supports white supremacists and barely manages to express compassion for victims – while cutting away at legal protections of humans and destroying the natural world as fast as possible. But on the other hand, there are extraordinary acts of compassion and courage. Muslims raise thousands of dollars to support the survivors of 11 Jews killed by hate and white supremacy. People are forming a caravan of love to meet the desperate refugee caravan heading for our southern border. And small acts of kindness happen everywhere. While courts occasionally decide in favor of human beings and the living earth.
I wanted to write a beautiful essay that takes all this into account and offers deep inspiration for how to live in these times.
I don’t have it, yet. So meanwhile, because there’s a deadline, I offer one thing: voting as resistance. There’s a saying:
“If voting made any difference, it would be illegal.”
This saying, re-interpreted, tells us why it’s important to vote in this election in particular.
Usually voting is just routine – in this country. The choices are boring, two versions of the corporate-war party, no versions of the human-in-natural-community reality, and one wants to just skip it. With a certain cynicism about how power works, one might feel like a dupe for participating.
This year, the suppression of the vote is so vigorous and so widespread that, I say, it demonstrates that voting actually does matter.
Here is the most concise summary I found of the many ways that people are being prevented from voting – and they are many, and the numbers are enough to change the results, and the people losing their votes are mostly people who we expect to vote Democratic. A Governor in Georgia, a Senator in North Dakota, and many more – please take a look at the article. For the most complete information on voter suppression and fraud over the years, check out Www.blackboxvoting.org, a nonpartisan website founded in 2003 by Bev Harris.
So I’m claiming that the suppression of the vote is itself evidence that your vote matters. I also say this: Voting is not self-expression. It is an exercise of power. We are deciding whether right-wing extremists (now called Republicans) will continue to control all three branches of government, or whether Congress can become a moderating force. The threat of Fascism – as described by people who remember Hitler’s rise to power – is clear and imminent in the United States. Our President is becoming more openly fascist ever day, claiming the right to define truth and override the Constitution, and setting a course of hate and fear.
Thus I say that, regardless of what you think of either party, this year we’re not in a position to boycott the elections. And third party voting is a form of boycott. I’ve done it many times, when it was safe. But this year we really need to vote for the lesser of two evils, because the greater evil threatens to divide the country, encourage murder in the street with impunity, and rewrite toe Constitution. This year, for one week, consider that voting may create a stopgap measure, buying a little time to do the work that must be done.
Voting is an exercise of power. Please use it, and wisely.
For more – Chris Hedges persists in offering depressing but credible analysis. Here’s a recent, long talk.
Please vote, and take all possible actions, and also change the world through acts of kindness, love, and prayers. We are in hard times; may we be refined rather than destroyed.
Peace and love,
Loss has my attention today. I was out walking the land with a dear friend that has never been here before. I came back to learn that the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by two votes. If both Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin had voted “no”, we would be looking toward a less scary future.
Even then, it’s scary. The Amazon rainforest is no longer a carbon sink. https://e360.yale.edu/digest/study-finds-tropical-forests-are-no-longer-carbon-sinks. The Arctic is melting – https://physicsworld.com/a/arctic-thaw-imperils-climate-goals/. And hate, fear, partisanship rule the day in more countries than our own. 2400 children are now in that immigrant camp in Texas, and families are not being reunited. Within five or ten years we likely face a world far different from even the one we know now – let along the green and abundant world of my childhood.
My past week has mostly been about the tornado. My house was close to the path of the strongest of several tornadoes that came through Rice County. It missed the house and took down dozens of trees. I’m still shocked when I look at the fallen and twisted trees. But also now, with much clearing done, I’m looking forward to what might be possible. I have little trees looking for homes – they will tell me where to plant them.
I’d been planning for the land care retreat, just three weeks away, planning to work with some of Martín Prechtel’s teachings. I’d thought of making a sacred compost pile; Martín talks about composting as honoring death and decay. Now it’s more likely that we’ll work with wildness, making an offering to the wild beings (deer, gophers, quackgrass) that threaten the orchard, as we also nurture the trees and spaces that support them. The orchard is weak because of neglect, not the storm; its weakness is influenced by conventional agriculture, erratic weather (climate change), and all the rest – and it longs for human attention too.
The grief of that neglect, and the grief of climate change, of tornado losses, of everyone we’ve loved who has died, of creeping fascism in politics here and in so much of the world – we’ll allow our grief to nourish the orchard as we do weeding, mulching, planting, cutting. And wildness will be welcome in this time. Because the gardens will not be strong unless the wilderness is stronger, and our habit of trying to control it leads to an inevitable end. We’ll allow the grief of lost trees and loss of control, and move toward our natural place in the family of living beings. Which means receiving gifts and giving them, in the spirit of offering, giving back to the earth which gives us our lives.
I’ve been promising to write about my summer’s retreat, but that will wait for the moment. Life is moving, alive, growing. I will write about that later, and also about the conference two weeks ago that was so exciting.
I have one simple request, though. During a solo in the wilderness, I made a vow to support the pine trees of the world – trees that are being attacked by pine bark beetles and blister rust, that are going up in flames. The beetles attach when the trees are stressed by drought or fire. Their attacks make the trees more susceptible to wildfire, which both heats directly and adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. My vow was to strengthen the trees so they will not burn. At one moment, I could sense that the trees had already accomplished this; at another I knew they needed our help.
Please support your local pine trees. I can’t tell you how. Currently I’m offering chanting and prayers and healing energy; do whatever comes to you.
I’m joining a local group working on stopping Line 3, the tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota – defending our shared home and confronting the state government that I know best. While my strongest draw is toward the plants and earth, I am compelled to join with other human beings as well.
I recommend this article, which as I was reading about the Kavanaugh hearing reminded me of balance.
Howard Zinn in 2005: https://progressive.org/op-eds/howard-zinn-despair-supreme-court/.
“Our culture – the media, the educational system – tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.”
Bless you all. I hope you’re voting, this year of all years – please make sure you’re registered. Please love your humans and your earth-beings, and please be well and happy.
I have posted a number of links to articles or talks here for your reading or listening. What they have in common:
Comments are encouraged – in great part because this is my first writing here and I’d like to see if it works.
Last week there was an onslaught of events that lead to feeling hopeless. I wrote a list, didn’t want to start with it, then knew it was necessary. Skip it if you need.
I don’t have an answer. So here is what I’m doing, day by day.
Imagine living in a culture in which there was enough for everyone. Enough safety. Enough food, of good quality. Enough access to the natural world. Enough love.
On Saturday I went into the streets about immigration, with a couple hundred people in Northfield. Not liking protests, I thought that sometimes you just have to visibly say no – and that this is such a time. I’m encouraged by the tenor of that conversation – people recognized there’s something bigger here – and by the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who showed up in the street. If Trump was testing the waters to see how far he could go, he didn’t get an “all clear.”
I’m encouraged by some other things too:
Martin Prechtel, in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive. His teacher, at dying, sent him to the United States to keep the sacred seeds alive. Finally he writes: “For ever after that, the seeds I was trying to keep viable were no longer “my” seeds of the Seeds of Tzutujil spirituality, but the seeds that every citizen of the Earth has somewhere tucked away inside themselves, or outside in their lives, or somewhere in the ground, or lurking around the family baggage, or hidden in their bodies. In dreams or inexplicable proclivities, but always somewhere they never look or know anything about. These seeds were the seeds of that very precious thing we all have that contains embryonic caches of possible understandings of how to live ritually and intactly with an indigenous mind, seeds that have been bequeathed to us all from our own more intactly earth-rooted ancestral origins from millennia previous.
… But, how can we find our seeds if they are hidden in a place we know nothing about, a place we cannot see or touch without the indigenous ancestral mind? The truth is, the seeds do not need to be found because they are already found. We are the ones who need to be found, for the seeds are wherever we go….We have been adrift for four thousand years, floating on people-centered rafts of provisional civilizations that have convinced themselves they are the real thing and the cutting edge of human evolution… the spirits…are effortlessly coursing right along with us….trying their best to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves…while we drift along figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.”
“figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.” If that makes no sense to you – if the whole quotation makes no sense – you are normal in this culture. But if it calls to you, whether clearly or faintly, that is the action of the spirits trying “to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves.”
It is our real selves that will find a way. Please listen deeply within for your real self. And please listen outside as well, to the you that is in other people, in lands, in animals, in plants – everything around you is also your Self.
We live in difficult times. It is harder to find the joy in life – and always more essential.
Still, life goes on. The plants don’t stop. I’m putting out an invitation for Saturday morning, July 7, 9-12 at the farm:
Temperature will be 70-77 degrees and sunny. RSVP for address, directions, and so I can expect you. Shodo.firstname.lastname@example.org. (“Maybe” is also helpful information.) Between Faribault and Northfield, MN.
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.
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.
I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference, just checking in after the first two days.
We began the conference with a series of sacred chants, from nuns in different traditions. It was beautiful. I would like to send more photos, but I’ll post them on the blog; this one is from Theravadin nuns of India, Burma, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Then we had brief welcome speeches, a ceremony of lighting the altar.
Most of the conference will consist of panels of speakers, on a variety of topics related to Buddhism and to women.The first day panels were mostly stories of Buddhist women across cultures, and specifically in Hong Kong where we are meeting. The second day was “Mindfulness across cultures” and “Building healthy families and communities.” Tomorrow will be sessions on Social Action and on Buddhist Education. Nearly everyone is speaking in English, though it’s a second language for most of them.
My roommate, a scholar, gave a talk yesterday. She was researching feminism in monastics in the area where she does research. After a nun said “I’m not a feminist” Linda began investigating. Her current thought, after four interviews and some study, is that they reject the conflict associated with feminism; nuns and monks cooperate; but they accept women’s strength. I really liked her process of inquiry.
I’ll write more as we go through the conference. And I’ll send pictures.
It’s very hot, and there’s a long walk from my residence hall to the meeting space, but once I’m there I can stay all day. I’ve met some Zen women that I know, and we’ve sort of bonded with the other monastics wearing black robes – mostly Nichiren tradition. (It’s okay if that means nothing to you.) The variety of styles and colors of robes is beautiful and amazing. I didn’t know where the pink robes come from (Vietnam), or the all-white ones (Nepal). Gray are China and Korea, maroon are Mongolian or Tibetan Buddhism, black are from Japan, and there are lots of brown or gold ones. The Theravadins (classical Buddhists) come in a wide variety – you can see them in the first photo of chanting. (A Nepali nun with minimal English helped me identify where the various robes were from.)
A moving thing has happened twice now: a lay person walks up to me, bows, and hands me a small red envelope. I bow in return and accept the envelope. Each time, 20 Hong Kong dollars – worth maybe $2.50 or so – but it’s amazing to me. There are hundreds of monastics here; I don’t know how many of them have received this gift, but I know it is to be accepted warmly and with gratitude. Receiving a gift (whether asked or not) compels a certain quality of life – to live wholeheartedly, to be worthy of the gift.
It is amazing to be here. Also exhausting, but that’s okay. My workshop is two days from now.
I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.
Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.
Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.
Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.
Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.
So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.
Requests and practical things
Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.
Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.
A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.
Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.
Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.
Farming and volunteering.
These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.
June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.
July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.
July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.
August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?
Sept 9-10 same as August.
Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.
Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.
How it works:
The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
Retreats and teaching activities
June: No retreats because I’m traveling.
July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.
August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.
September: retreat at the farm September 16-20
October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.
November-December: to be arranged.
June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).
June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.
Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.
January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.
I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.