- The Farm
- The Alliance
Please forgive me for not commenting on the conditions of the world today. Sometimes writing is more than I can manage. But if you wish to send support to Ukraine, there is a Zen community in Poland that has taken on this work, and are known to people that I know. (You may have to use Google Translate.)
So this was “spring cleanup day” and now we know more.
The house renovation is not finished, so we can’t move furniture back, but visits will be offered. The big task will be planting tiny plants and generally putting in the garden. People who want to use carpentry skills or big muscles will be invited to do things like building the outhouse or moving dirt and wood. Plenty of choices.
The day: early people 9-1, lunch at 1, afternoon crew 1-5, and a leisurely supper and bonfire afterward – as we like. Lunch looks like nettle soup with cornbread and black bean salad; dinner is uncertain; there’s a dessert involving rhubarb. Potluck contributions are welcome but not required.
If you’d like to come, please let me know your plans so I can do food. If you want to come Friday or even another day, email me and we’ll see what we can do.
COVID: Things seem a little tenuous these days. Tell me if you are in one of these two groups:
We’ll keep these two groups separated. We’ll be outdoors, and we’ll have a contact tracing sign-in sheet.
Other upcoming events appear on the right of this post, so I won’t repeat them here.
I’ll be visiting Bloomington, Indiana a couple of times, and Atlanta in late July/early August. Feel free to reach out about either a visit or a ride share.
About two days ago, a shooting war began between Russia and Ukraine. Everyone knows who is right and wrong, except me. People have sent essays and speeches, and I can add a few bits of information or links. Here is just one source of many: a talk by Vladimir Pozner. There are some common themes in these alternative voices: that Western powers promised that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward, and then it did; that Putin once wanted to join NATO and was turned down. I do not support Putin or the invasion, but the media has gotten into that cheerleading mode that I cannot join.
War is never good. Claims of innocence are always suspect, though innocence does exist in the world. What to do? Praying for peace is always a good thing; meditating for justice is also safe. That’s all I’m going to say. You’re invited to add a comment with your favorite information source.
Meanwhile, life goes on here, far from the war. It’s a little disconcerting, being aware that all our lives are in the balance and not quite sure what to do. But really, not so different from dealing with global warming, or violent racism, or most things: what can we do? Joanna Macy describes three kinds of action: holding actions, building the new future, and spiritual work. I’m mostly involved in the latter two, living in a present and working for a future spiritually based and connected with all of life.
It would be great if people who are doing things add a link or a short comment – especially about these very immediate events including the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
A local reporter came to do a story, and did this beautiful and wise description of what we’re doing here:
There seems to be a paywall. They told me people could generally access the article once or twice before the paywall came up, but some people are having difficulty. I am trying to arrange access.
In response to this welcome, I will offer some introductory afternoons later this year, summer or fall.
Spring 2022 Events:
We expect to have construction in April, dates unknown, and there will be a chance for volunteers to help – especially with moving furniture, possibly with painting and other work.
Last, I want to leave you with this poem by Wendell Berry. It’s from 1977; I can’t say it’s still true 45 years later. I still offer it.
Sending blessings to you. Inviting you to pray for peace, love, and joy, for justice and freedom. Inviting you to stop by the nearest old tree, or meadow, or creek, to greet them warmly, bring an offering of any kind (a song? A cookie?) and speak to them the same prayers, share with them, consider them as friends and allies.
If you would like to come and spend some time with the land this weekend (Oct 9 and/or 10) here is the information and registration link. It’s a work weekend and there is no charge; the schedule is loose and you can come for part of it.
The real reason for this note is to share a beautiful interview with Tenzin Palmo, about practice and emptiness. She is the nun who spent 12 years in a cave in Tibetan Buddhist practice; she is also an absolute delight to meet. She is talking (at this moment) about the importance of foundational practice, which would be calming or mindfulness practice. And about practice in daily life as well.
I recommend this interview very highly. It’s about an hour, and you could listen to it in small pieces if you like.
Rather than talking about any of the kinds of fear people are feeling these days, I’m going to invite you to spend some quiet and calm time with us, in the crisp cool days and nights, glorious fall colors, harvesting, transplanting, bonfire, good conversation…as much or as little of the weekend as you like.
Work weekend: Saturday and Sunday, October 9 and 10, with more information and registration here.
That’s my invitation right now – ordinary life and community.
The next official event after that is Rohatsu sesshin, seven days of silent sitting meditation beginning the evening of November 30. Mostly it’s serious Zen people who like this – but talk with me if you’re tempted, everybody has a first time.
For both events, we’ll take care of Covid safety as appropriate to the time.
We have a couple of photos: a new altar cloth, hand woven by Kathleen Quinn (in the picture). And I started bringing in firewood for the winter – though to heat with wood throughout would take a lot more labor power than I have alone.
There is still space for extra people who want to live here. Reading the website gives you an idea. A couple of interested people are coming for the work weekend, which is a great time to get the feel of things.
At no cost to you, iGive.com gives a percentage of your online shopping to us. You go here, fill out the forms, put a button on the gadget you most use for shopping, and name Mountains and Waters Alliance. The rest of it is basically automatic. If you do this by November 15 and actually buy something by December 1, we get an extra $5. But mostly, it’s a steady trickle, with a burst of cash for big shopping events or plane tickets etc. Lots of stores are on it – just go to their website as you would otherwise. (Don’t ever stop supporting your locally owned stores!)
Love you all.
This is an update on the events calendar I sent out last month. It seems like a good idea to be more careful with the unknowns on the new Covid variants. The uncertainty of life is requiring us to pay attention.
When you register for any event, please let me know whether you are vaccinated, which seems to give considerable protection. Also let me know if you are especially vulnerable or live with vulnerable people. We did this safely twice last year, before vaccines, adjusting precautions as we went.
specifically designed as a space to care for ourselves and each other around the challenges in today’s world. We will resume in September. Email me if you’re considering joining. We’ve been meeting Sunday evenings. Details here.
Mondays, 6 am Central Time, details here.
11-5, lunch and snacks offered. We have garden projects and building projects. I have been out of state (returned August 3), so consider what feels safe to you. Probably entirely outdoors. Details here.
Combines sitting meditation with outdoor work as sacred ceremony. Garden, land care, and possibly some building. Free to past volunteers. Please register – we’ll go ahead if there are three registrations by the 15th. Details and registration here.
(Thursday night to Tuesday afternoon): Sitting silently together, in the zendo or outdoors. Probably cancelled, but let me know if you plan to come. We may just wait for December. Registration required; fee or work exchange. Details and registration here.
We have raspberries to prune and move, rhubarb to divide and plant, possibly hazelnut bushes, strawberries, and who knows what else.
All the workdays are Saturday but could be extended on request. All come with a great lunch, free camping and so forth for those who stay extra – and probably veggies or plants if you would like some to take home.
This will definitely happen, but possibly online.
Seven days of silent meditation, honoring the enlightenment of Dogen (founder of Soto Zen). A very quiet kind of adventure. Requires registration plus fee or work exchange. If you have not done sesshin here, we’ll need to talk first.
The construction, the protests, and the arrests continue at Line 3 in northern Minnesota. A central information source is http://stopline3.org. They are asking people to come now, but there’s plenty of other support to offer, especially contacting your legislators, the governor, and the President.
I don’t need to tell you about wildfires, floods, heat waves, disasters, and deaths continuing. We live in difficult times. Please take heart. (Note The Gift of Fearlessness group as a space to hold this .)
You’re invited to a beautiful day in the country, with some good work and a feast at the end. The weather forecast is cool (low 70’s) with showers tapering off around 11 am – perfect for the weeding projects.
Please tell me what hours you’d like to come. If you want to arrive before 11 or leave before 5, just tell me. To come just for supper, see below. Also see Covid safety notes at bottom.
Send me an email with this information: Your name, of course. __________________
bringing friends? (names) ________________
bringing kids? (names and ages) __________________
Planned arrival time ______. Planned ending time ______ . Staying for supper? ________
Which area of interest/skill? (details below)
Special stuff: check any of these boxes on food: ___Vegan ___ Need meat ___ Other restrictions ___________
And any other needs (allergies, physical limits, etc)? _________________________________________
If you are not vaccinated, or have special concerns about Covid, please check here ___. I’ll contact you so we can work it out with everybody who cares.
Some people have put many hours of love into this place (or into the Alliance): just come. But tell me so we can organize food.
If you’re new here and not up for work yet, you’re still welcome to come – and it would be nice if you can bring a potluck dish.
I have no idea how many people will come; I’m pretty sure of at least two. Any number is fine.
I’ll send another email with directions, parking, “what to bring” information, and the rest.
The big project: move the picture window out of the truck! Probably wants 3 strong people to do it; took 2 skilled people to put it in the truck…
Everything else is a wonderful bonus. Leading options:
There are three doors to install. I need at least one person with skills equal to or better than mine. Two such people, and/or a real carpenter, would be greatly appreciated.
We could put up the outhouse, if we got really enthusiastic. (composting toilet is ready)
Move heavy things:
Once the truck is empty, there’s a lot of firewood to haul, left from tornado damage 3 years ago.
There’s a firepit to build, all the stones are close by and it’s half done. Creativity involved.
Plant things: (your choice)
Weeding: There’s a garden. There are always weeds, maybe harvesting, or feel free to harvest the weeds, some are great food.
Pruning raspberries – an adventure: I set out to prune the raspberries and came away with quarts of ripe black berries – and there’s more. I can provide the armor, tools, and the plan.
Foraging: wild raspberries, nettles for pesto and soup, milkweed for freezing and canning, daylilies for freezing and pickling, herbs.
Fruit trees: They’ve gotten lost in the grasses and flowers – find them and see if they need anything. We can have a tour after.
Too much to ask:
Some people have put many hours of love into this place (or into the Alliance): just come. But tell me so we can organize food.
If you’re new here and not up for work yet, you’re still welcome to come – and it would be nice if you can bring a potluck dish.
We’ll be mostly outdoors and it’s easy to do physical distancing. Most people are vaccinated.
Still: Some people can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons or aren’t vaccinated for their own reasons; some people live with vulnerable people; some people are just concerned. Whatever. If you have any of these situations, please tell me at registration and we’ll make a decision so everyone can feel safe. And if you have symptoms, are exposed to Covid, or have been on a plane or train in the past two weeks, please talk to me so we can figure it out.
I have no idea how many people will come; I’m pretty sure of two, which is enough. Limit is probably 20.
I’ll send another email with directions, “what to bring” information, and the rest.
Spring has burst forth in the past two weeks. Everything in me welcomes it. So today just this, with Wendell Berry:
We don’t know what will happen next, though things seem to be improving as more people are vaccinated. We discuss expectations at the beginning of each event (and in advance by email). Summer activities are mostly outdoors. We expect people to be responsible if they’ve been exposed, recently traveled, have vulnerable people to protect, and so forth. Expect standard safety protocols appropriate to the situation.
May 15, Saturday, we will be planting the garden, which has been prepped by several people on May 1 and other days. Tomatoes, potatoes, butternut squash, green peppers, canteloupe, and some herbs. Morning, afternoon, or both. Send an email to Shodo, and we’ll coordinate start and stop times, lunch, what you might need, directions, and carpooling. If we get everything in, there are a few other projects involving berries, fruit trees, and foraging.
Future dates to be arranged.
We probably start in June, depending on the building permit. I’m gathering names of people, and their availability and skill levels. (Support staff is good too – for instance cooking.) Email me here, and I’ll keep you posted. We expect coming and going of people, with enough stability to help it flow smoothly. Morning zazen is offered at 6 am, optional.
The project is opening up the main floor of the house, for added sun, more space, and an extra bedroom. The main point is to create a good south wall so we can attach a solar greenhouse and stop heating with fossil fuels. A second point is an additional nice bedroom for long-term guests or residents. Because the plan is still six residents.
June 17-22 is planned for a sesshin – an intensive meditation retreat in complete silence. This may be shortened or altered in some way if construction is still going on; advance registrations will make sure that it remains in full.
For all retreats: if interested, please either click above to register, or email for information.
Wednesday night study group, Sunday afternoon discussion group, and Monday morning zazen continue as usual.
I’ve had some lovely conversations about the world. Here are links to one talk, two four-way discussions, and one interview:
Dharma talk, Everything around me is my refuge
“Simple Sacred Solutions” is a series of dialogues from Green Yoga Project. Two interviews are posted each day May 1-7, and on their website afterward. Mine will be available Wednesday, May 5 (any time). Register here; you’ll receive an email with a link, to access the talks on the given day.
And if you are engaged in the struggle for justice and human rights; if you are embraced by soil and water and growing food; if you are deep in silent meditation; if you are disheartened by your own life or discouraged by the changes in the world; if you are filled with gratitude; if you are afraid; if you are angry – whoever you are and in whatever state, know that you are held.
If you would like us to chant on behalf of yourself or a loved one, someone in danger, sick, missing, in prison, passed over, or for a cause or a concern, please ask.
As we weary of the pandemic and look forward to spring – forgive my rambling. And note the recording and the events at the bottom of the page.
A gunman has shot and killed ten people in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Less than a week earlier a gunman shot and killed eight people in massage parlors in Atlanta. Now, the state of Georgia has passed a draconian voter suppression law, and yesterday arrested a Black legislator for knocking on a door so she could witness the governor’s photo op. In Washington DC The US Senate cannot organize itself to stop minority rule (the filibuster). The Voting Rights Act is moving strictly on partisan lines, because Republicans admit they can’t win an election honestly.
The State of Minnesota has seated a jury for the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was filmed killing George Floyd, which started enormous protests, some violence, and became the occasion for more violence by police against protesters and journalists. The State has invested enormous sums in policing, fencing.
Official violence continues against people resisting Line 3 in northern Minnesota; sheriff departments are raking in the cash as Enbridge makes the mandated payments for pipeline “protection.” Line 3 is in court again and there’s some hope of legal victory. At Thacker Pass, the protest against lithium mining enters its third month of calling environmentalists to account along with mining companies.
Geneen Marie Haugen writes “I am stunned each time another hideous event exposes human depravity or psychosis or indifference for the lives of others. Every time, I (perhaps foolishly) anticipate some kind of collective awakening. …My belly aches with longing to mend what has gone awry, if only I could identify it. I want to be able to say, ‘Here is a way.’
I’m reading a book called They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, 1933-45. The stories of ordinary individuals who joined the Nazi party are chilling; the way they manipulate truth and memory is uncomfortably familiar. But here is a comment from the author’s academic friend about his own choices. On taking the loyalty oath, “That day the world was lost, and it was I who lost it.” Although it had enabled him to hide fugitives and save lives, he said “If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown.” He speaks about not being ready, not having enough faith that he might make a difference, and so he took the easier path.
We know people who took the harder path. Daniel Ellsberg escaped life in prison (unlike Reality Winner, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and even Edward Snowden in exile). Others have paid a different kind of price: Peter Norman, Australian runner supporting Carlos and Smith’s 1968 Olympic protest, lost his career and more – depression, alcoholism, and painkiller addiction after an injury. In 2000 he had no regret for standing up. Hugh Thompson, after stopping his soldiers from participating in the My Lai massacre, “was denounced as a traitor, and spent much of his life suffering from depression, PTSD, and nightmares.” And young Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were executed by the Nazis. “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go.”
What is appropriate action? What does each of us do, in a time when things are so ? And then how do we become the people who can take the risk? When I walked along the KXL route in 2013, there was no way to predict what the results would be – and it is still not possible to say what we contributed to the eventual protection of the land. But doing it made me alive. It was hard. Afterward it was hard to go back to ordinary life. Mountains and Waters Alliance, here on the farm and writing online, feels more mundane. But if I abandoned it, I would no longer feel alive.
Spring is in the air; amid the ruins of authorized violence and voter suppression, life renews. Line 3 protests with sacred ceremony mixed with arrests and legal battles. Buddhist Justice Reporter looks deeply at the Derrick Chauvin trial. Protect Thacker Pass asks hard questions and confronts the self-deception of the environmental movement. Part of the great upswelling on behalf of the earth and our humanity, Mountains and Waters Alliance asks us to become allies with forests, mountains, and rivers instead of trying to be gods.
It’s a frightening time. So always is labor and birth. Be alive.
The months of April through June will be a work-practice period at MWA; come for what time you can, join us in zazen and in work. Covid safety continues as a priority,including quarantining in place, limited numbers, etc. In May we do construction, the first step toward solarizing the house. Meditation retreats and work retreats follow through the year; online groups, classes, and zazen continue.
Take heart. Something is rising. We are part of it, we are alive.
In spite of Covid-19, we will offer some in-person options for this year. Things may change if the pandemic worsens. Meanwhile we have online events.
Spring Work/Practice Period is an extended time for meditation, dharma discussion, and work as practice, in the context of community and the natural world. We’d like to welcome two or three people for an extended time, with more later when the weather warms. You can arrive April 1 or later, and stay to late summer. Well, for the hardy March is an option; we have plants to start indoors and maple trees to tap. Please read the more detailed description here, and plan to talk with me before you actually come. Also take a look at the visitor information.
Self-quarantine on site for up to two weeks, depending on individual circumstances. That self-quarantine can be done mostly outdoors, or in your room, with meals and other activities organized in a safe way. Like the traditional Zen tangaryo (which consists of simply sitting meditation all day), it provides a chance to get settled in this place while not having a lot of obligations. After a few days we’ll likely be able to find some kinds of solo work for you.
Volunteers are also welcome during this time.
This includes a volunteer weekend April 16-20 (come for part or all). Schedules are still in flux with weather, there will be other weekend opportunities.
Please see the calendar for later events:
Even in this pandemic time, I hope several of you will be able to come.
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.
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.
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
There’s a tricky thing about letting go of things. At the farm, mostly my attention is focused not on letting go but on things that are here that I don’t want – pocket gophers, Japanese beetles (new this year), buckthorn, black walnuts, quackgrass, honeysuckle…. As I write now, I remember that it’s really about losing things – losing orchard trees and potatoes, losing raspberries and tomatoes, losing flowers and the other native plants displaced by these… yet in my mind it still feels like having to accept that those others are here. And I’m working with it.
Looking at the black walnut trees everywhere, I’m starting to let go. I’d meant to confine them to their present one-acre territory and remove them elsewhere. There are too many; I would be in endless war; there must be a way to coexist. They are, after all, native, medicinal plants, high-quality food, and source of many other things used by humans. This year, I’ve started harvesting nuts and will actually follow through and eat them. Fall or spring, tapping for the sweet sap, alongside the regular tapping of box elder and maple. And tend them as lumber, to grow straight and tall. All this is looking for a way out of hate or victimization – the two modes I know the best. Is this exploitation or co-existence? And how, likewise, do we learn to have relationships with difficult people? Work with them somehow, negotiate, even team with them? I’ve had to do it before in communities and workplaces, when necessary. This with the walnuts and others is also necessary; can I find the heart to do it? (If I can work together with the walnuts, might I possibly work together with difficult humans? Suddenly the walnuts seem easy. I don’t ascribe intention to them.)
On the other side – things have changed, mostly for the better – or let me say, it’s mostly in ways that I like. The land care retreat, which felt like a new beginning at the time, seems to actually have begun some changes. People are coming for sesshin regularly. I had three weeks of house guests who practiced sincerely, worked mindfully and joyfully, and made sangha. “I could live this way,” I thought once near the middle of that time. And toward the end we began a practice of reading together, discussing, and then sitting until bedtime, which meets my needs for sangha in another way. Now I’m alone again, looking toward the weekend and the next sesshin.
We’re harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, raspberries, and the first walnuts. We planted several small sugar maple trees near the driveway, intending to make a grove for sugaring ten or twenty years in the future. There are more small maples to plant after removing the piles of firewood and weeds in that area. We could add the larger, faster maples that grow here like weeds and do produce some sap; I don’t know yet.
The nine trees I planted this spring – pear, apple, nut pine, and cherry – are all doing well, except one has lost its leaves already. The orchard is in neglect, and I hope to visit and prune while fall weather holds.
And yesterday we cleared an area near the back door, moving, burning, digging, making space for the firewood spaces that Chris is building against the barn. It’s like housecleaning – I can breathe more easily now.
Listening to a Public Radio show about melting ice in the Arctic, I note that more and more I’m hearing climate change in mainstream news. Now that it’s probably too late. I recommend this article: “What if we stopped pretending?” about the realities of climate change. What some of us are thinking about is how to act compassionately, ethically, and for the best possible outcomes, in a time when the bad news is so powerful and the forces destroying the planet are stronger and louder than ever. It feels like a war, and I haven’t figured out what to do except spiritual practice. I’m reading the book Why Civil Resistance Works (Chenoweth and Stephan), heavily researched, showing why nonviolent resistance is generally more successful than violent resistance, with no guarantees either way. Hopefully that will be helpful in some way.
I almost forgot to mention – The Global Climate Strike includes actions around the world. This is one of those “everybody show up” occasions. Look for what’s in your area and find a way to get yourself there.
This morning, instead of sitting in the new zendo, I went to the central altar and sat by the creek and bluff for a while. It was easy in this new-fall weather, yet that reminds me that it won’t be easy long. My practice now is to be present with what is, not dislike the coming cold.
My feeling about winter is perhaps something like my feeling about climate change – about losing the regular movement of the seasons, about possibly being hungry – and that is from my very privileged position in a location where there’s been little change. Here, I prepare for refugees, not for floods and wildfires. Yet our vulnerability is much more clear since last fall’s tornado. “Not to get rid of things, but to accept that they go away.”
I was talking yesterday with a Dharma brother, and the topic of medicine came up. Neither of us normally goes to doctors. But for him it’s a matter of accepting that life moves along, not trying to fight aging. I fight aging like mad, just not with conventional medicine. Listening to him humbles me. Equanimity makes life better. Is it just because I’ve committed to engage with the protection of the world around me, that I attach to my own body? Or is my engagement a reflection of my personal attachment? I’ll watch that question for a while, not expecting an easy answer.
September 14, workday – clearing tangled spaces, moving firewood to make room for sugar maples, and more, depending on weather and number of people. If weather keeps us indoors, we might make comfrey salve, crack walnuts, play with woodworking, or clean the masonry heater and build the first fire. It’s fine to come for part of the day or all, 9-5 total.
And see this page for the next few things. Below are the “special” ones.
October 26-27: Introduction to Zen retreat
November 24, Sunday morning talk at NBMC by Courtney Work, an anthropologist studying Buddhism in rural Cambodia. I can’t say enough how excited I am about this.
November 30-December 5, Rohatsu sesshin (Saturday 7 pm – Thursday 3 pm)
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. This month’s new donation supports transcription of my past talks, which will help me publish a book. All options are here, including the way to support us for free.
It is only by consistently re-grounding ourselves to the Earth, silently in order to listen, that we can allow the grief of these times to wash through us. And then, may we be clear-eyed and able to act with the conviction required by these times. Dahr Jamail, July 2019
In early August, fourteen of us came together to practice with the land, listening to the earth and caring for it, sitting zazen in the new zendo and walking meditation outdoors, working and laughing together. It felt like a new beginning.
Although the point of the work times was to engage with the land, not to accomplish things, things were accomplished.
One of the work groups was asked to make a trail through the woods; last fall’s tornado damage has made it very difficult to walk in the woods, and I’ve been feeling more and more need to reconnect. When I came down the path they’d made, I found myself face to face with the most beautiful part of the bluff at the large creek. I caught my breath. Looked at the faces in the rock cliff, one face and another and another and a whole mass of beings like an audience down below. Felt the space. Stayed for a while, and promised myself to come back every day. To listen, to honor, to be made whole again. It’s nearly at the center of the land we “own.” That feels good to me. There was an altar in each direction: north, east, south, west at the river. Most of these are inaccessible since last September’s tornado took down so many trees. But now I can walk to the central altar and be connected – feel the connection that is always there, actually.
I asked the place for permission to post a photo, but there was no yes. So no picture, I just invite you to come, to make your offering here at this altar, to receive its blessing, to meet directly.
Meanwhile, the work of the summer has been making the zendo, the meditation hall as the heart of the house. And some work with gardens and outdoors, mostly maintenance, but tomatoes are starting to ripen and the zucchinis are already feeding us. Gifts from Eileen, from Karen, Beth, Jaime, Iris and Hosshin and Hoko and so many other volunteers, guests, sincere practitioners. And the steady work of Damien, weeding, mowing, hauling, whatever is needed for several hours a week, helping the land be in better shape than it has for a while.
It feels like things are coming together, after five years here. People are coming more; the house is a workable space for retreats; the beauty of the land is coming forth. The potlucks offer steady space for listening and deepening, the three-hour sits, the workdays, and the weekend sesshins – things are settling. It’s fortunate, because just at this time the emergency in the world is becoming clearer.
Observing the World:
The emergency in the world – I see that I wrote about this last month. Happy not to say more, except to remind you that this is that state recommended for practice: “Practice as if your head is on fire.”
Meanwhile, I’m happy to see so much waking up, so many people learning to follow the lead of indigenous people, so many following spiritual paths.
And here’s a thought: Sometimes you hear of a people who have a ritual that must be done for the world to continue. For instance, “I have to offer this prayer in the morning for the sun to come up.” Colonized mind thinks it’s silly. Very few are doing those rituals any more; colonialism has decimated native religions even worse than native peoples. What if those peoples were right? What if what would save us is not science but prayers and rituals for the earth, for earth spirits? Not proposing that we abandon other actions, but that we look deeply at the nature of our relationship with all beings.
That’s where I’m putting my time, because even though my imagination can’t go there, I’m certain that we need to go beyond the rational mind. What matters is to come home to our family, of the whole earth including humans. That’s more important than survival.
The question is always: What is needed? What can this person and this group offer that will be beneficial to the whole, including every individual. So there will be an “Introduction to Zen” workshop and retreat in October, because people have been asking.
I’d also like to invite you to listen to one of my Dharma talks, where I look more deeply into the matters I discuss here. Two of the talks posted on the website are based on Dogen’s “Body and Mind Study of the Way”: “The whole world is nothing but the true human body” and “A single hand held out freely.” Each is a bit under an hour. On the same page are two very short clips, one on walking meditation and one on work.
I look forward to posting a talk by my teacher, Shohaku Okumura, at the Land Care Retreat, and a talk by Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
August/September and upcoming events (more detail in August 13 posting):
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. Another person has added an automated monthly donation to MWA. This is easy for you and of enormous benefit to us, allowing a bit of planning and less hunting for money. A few people are also signed up with iGive.com, which creates donations of significant percentages with online shopping – automated if you put a button on your website. All options are here.
Blessings and Love to you all,
Looking ahead to September:
Directions and practical information are at this page.
The newsletter will come out separately.