- The Farm
- The Alliance
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.
One: This is an odd thing: I listened to the Democratic primary debates, in spite of my better judgment. Twenty imperfect but passionate people spoke, and I thought most of them were more alike than different. A week later, it struck me: twenty people are touring around the United States, giving talks to whoever will listen, speaking on behalf of kindness, peace, fairness, and so forth – proposing a return to basic decency. When one says something brilliant (for instance, Julian Castro on decriminalizing undocumented immigration), others pick it up.
This is not a competition. This is a team. They are speaking against greed, racism, sexism, and environmental stupidity, and for returning to being decent ordinary human beings again. I almost don’t care whether any particular one is sincere. The voices are out there, and they are speaking truth – most of them – in varying degrees. This is abundance. (May the few corporate or militaristic shills among them drop out soon.) This is the most positive I’ve felt about elections in a long time.
Two: Looking for a talk to share with the potluck group next week, I noticed that I was considering three men. And more than half of the past talks have been by men. I have been complicit in putting men’s voices first. And yet the mind was blank when wondering about talks by women. So I asked the community – in the form of a facebook page called Permaculture Women.
The responses flooded in. I was reminded of women teachers I’d forgotten: Ursula LeGuin, Starhawk, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke…. And women I’d never heard of, and beautiful talks. Now I have a whole page of names, and I want to schedule listening groups every week instead of every month. I’ve started looking them up, listening to talks, being inspired. I want to share them all right now. Some day, they’ll be on that website resource page.
I haven’t been writing much. There’s a kind of leisure that I haven’t had, that allows the mental noise to settle and something else to come forth. When I find it again, it will be to join the chorus of beautiful, creative, brave voices that’s already there – not to say the desperately needed thing that nobody else knows.
This is abundance. Hundreds of voices are speaking. They are saying beautiful, incredible things. They are confronting fascism (with bodies as well as with words), they are speaking the beautiful truth of the world, they are inspiring, healing, creating a vision of the community we could become. In our work, in our alliance with the mountains and waters and myriad beings, we are in the company of thousands. The thought that I should be the first to speak – that comes from loneliness, from broken community, from personal woundedness and from hubris – may it heal.
Three: And then there are the others. The central point of Mountains and Waters Alliance is becoming allies to those who are not human – trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals, rocks and bluffs and creeks and rain – listening to them, learning from them, protecting them, and asking and accepting their support and wisdom. I promise to take the time for this as well. And here too, other humans are already doing this work, have been doing it for decades, centuries, the whole of human existence – and they’ve been writing about it in English for many decades as well. We join a beautiful community.
There are still a few spots left for this retreat. It includes formal and informal Zen practice, meeting the love of all sentient beings in physical expression, walking with and working with the land.
There will be a Saturday evening talk by the respected teacher Shohaku Okumura-roshi. If you’re interested in just coming to that talk, email me. I’ll get back to you when I know how many spaces we have for the talk.
If you are not familiar with Zen practice and want some basic background before coming to the Land Care Retreat, we’ll set something up. Email Shodo if interested, and we will arrange a 2-3 hour time in early August. No charge.
July 20 Saturday work day – we could really use your help, preparing for the Land Care Retreat (tent spots, trails, and whatever’s needed indoors as we get ready to move the zendo into the cool place. 9-5, or 1-5 if you want a half day. Lunch at noon, watermelon for afternoon break. And it’s fine to come for just a couple hours. It helps to know that you’re coming.
July 21 2-5 pm, three-hour sit. Third Sunday.
July 21 5:30-8:30, potluck and discussion. Third Sunday.
July 26-28, weekend sesshin. Last weekend each month, except November/December.
August 9-11, Land Care Retreat. (See above)
August 17, Saturday work day.
August 18, 3-hour sit and potluck
August 23-25, weekend sesshin.
Looking ahead – women’s retreat in Indiana, October 11-13.
July 20, August 17, September 14, October 19, November 16, and maybe December 14. More information at Visitor Information. We really have fun, and it really helps.
Thank you to donors. You know who you are. I’d like to also solicit donations for Sanshinji, which is sending four people here to support the Land Care Retreat, at its own expense. Here.
The vegetable garden is doing well, because of summer guest Eileen Jones (was here for about three weeks, gardening every day) and local worker Damien Williams. We have many potatoes, small tomato plants, and beans, squash, and more. Strawberries are ending and raspberries beginning. The new fruit trees are all alive. And, wonder of wonders, the lawn is mowed!
I’ve started saying “this is what societal collapse looks like” and hearing the same from many directions. A president who is a laughingstock around the world; random official killings of people for various reasons or none, though apparently based on skin color, religion, immigration status, or simply being inconvenient for the corporate state.
There are bits of hope. A court has said no to putting a citizenship question on the census, and the president backed down (sort of) – still thinks he can get the data. Once, creating Social Security, this nation refused to create a national ID card – they were aware then. Now, I won’t be surprised if they soon put religious and ethnic information on our driver’s licenses – check out The Handmaid’s Tale for what comes next. Another court has declared the imprisonment and neglect (and abuse) of immigrant children illegal. Here and there, courts do what they’re supposed to do – limit abuses by the other branches. Some Congress members are speaking up and even taking action on the horrors of the day. And listening to the Democratic primary debates, I suddenly had the imagine of a team, working together with powerful voice, to educate the public, to put forth a vision – because their words are (mostly) beautiful. What if they came to think of themselves as a team, to actually lead away from the corporate state and into something better?
Yet, as someone said, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in Nazi Germany, look at what you’re doing now.” To count on the courts, or on Congress, or on a future president over a year from now, is to abdicate, to choose victimhood over citizenship. I say that to myself as much as to anyone else.
We don’t know how soon actual hunger will come to us right here in the United States. I mean middle-class white people, of course – there are plenty of hungry or malnourished children already, look around. I remember 2008 and the very long lines at the food shelf. That was economic; this year there will be less actual food (and less ethanol for gasoline, so higher travel costs). Though still at the top of the privilege heap, the U.S. joins the world in food insecurity.
Sometimes people don’t like me to talk about this stuff. It’s uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as being imprisoned or shot – as is already happening to some people. This is about life, not comfort.
What to say? Plant food, of course. Organize, of course. And this other thing: learn to talk with the food, food plants you grow and those you eat, try to find out about a different kind of relationship with the world of plants and animals that sustain us. The easiest introduction to this would be Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael; the most beautiful – there are so many!
Forget guilt. Ask forgiveness if you need, then act, and let the world of living beings support you as you act.
Blessings and Love to you all,
First, on this summer solstice day, a poem from Gary Snyder. “After a Mohawk prayer,” he says.
Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through
night and day –
and to her soil; rich, rare and
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing
leaf and fine root-hairs;
standing still through wind and
rain; their dance is In the
flowering spiral grain
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and
silent Owl at dawn. Breath of
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers (and sisters),
teaching secrets, freedoms, and
ways; who share with us their
milk; self-complete, brave and
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers,
glaciers, holding or releasing;
streaming through all our bodies
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Sun: blinding, pulsing light
through trunks of trees, through
mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep – he who
wakes us –
in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars – and
beyond that – beyond all powers
and is yet within us –
The Mind is his Wife.
so be it.
It’s still possible to register for the June sesshin, June 28-30, or the July sesshin, July 26-28, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. More sesshin dates here.
Three-hour sits are 2-5 pm on the day of the potluck. July 21, August 18, September 15, October 20, November 17, December 22.
Land care retreat August 9-11, please register early. We expect a large group and will be preparing particularly with the July 20 work day.
Looking ahead – women’s retreat in Indiana, October 11-13.
are changing slightly to include an optional monthly work retreat. This is a direct result of how much we liked the Land Care Retreat. Here’s the deal:
You know who you are. We now have enough regular donations to cover the internet fee plus a little.
There’s been some planting. Three apple and three pair trees, two Korean nut pines and one sweet black cherry (looking a little weak, I need to learn). Donated rhubarb is looking great, five plants. Strawberries just started to produce. Tomato plants – Cherokee Purple – look healthy. Some other annuals are just starting – while the renters’ garden is close to producing already! I’ve just harvested the first milkweed for eating; milkweed is abundant so we can harvest freely. Mints and catnip are also abundant, and flowers. Eileen, a gardener, has just arrived for the summer, and I look forward to showing her things and growing food and beauty together.
Instead of recounting the latest horrors, I want to offer another way to meet the world. A Facebook friend sent me his new website. It has a whole page of people’s faces, people he considers heroes for their level of commitment and love – along with links to their writings or speaking or stories. Let us remember that there are people like this, in every time including the worst. We can be people like this. I invite you to read their stories, and see how you are like them.
“Greed, anger, and ignorance rise endlessly. Cut off the mind-road.”
It’s anger that tempts me the most. It has effects on the body. Tense jaw, tense shoulders, fists, stomach. Loss of appetite. Effects on life: putting the worst interpretation on events and on people – falling into blaming. But what’s actually happening? The world as we know it is falling apart – and it needed to fall apart. It still hurts. The man in the White House is a symptom of the collapse of a social system that was never sustainable. It’s not the individuals who are the problem.
Life doesn’t work when obsessed by anger, or distracted by shiny objects, or just denying the problems. So there are some kinds of mental/emotional first aid. Take three breaths with attention. Look deeply, even lose yourself in a flower or grasses or insects, whatever life is available. Put your hands into the soil. Go to the woods or the waters. Play with a small child. Have some social time. On a longer time frame, get your life into a sustainable routine, with enough sleep, nutritious food, exercise, people, and not too much electronics or sugar or alcohol.
And then – stay stable, keep doing those things. Calming, or samatha, in Buddhist terms, is the ground for everything else. It’s followed by insight (vipassana) and action or morality. (Morality also comes first, actually, and then it grows naturally out of the calm, insightful place.) This is all hard when disasters are everywhere.
Stay calm, continue self-care, and respond to what is needed – what calls to you most urgently. There’s no shortage. Rather than trying to do everything, find something you can do well. And do it. Meditation, understanding, action.
Blessings and Love to you all,
Newsletters will be monthly! From now on, that is. Last week was supposed to be the monthly newsletter, but I forgot to tell you, and there is news anyway. So here we go.
Zen retreats: Two changes.
Monthly work days are changing slightly to include an optional monthly work retreat. This is a direct result of how much we liked the Land Care Retreat.
Dates: 2nd or 3rd Saturday: June 8, July 20, August 17, September 14, October 19, November 16, and maybe December 14.
Next land care retreat is August 9-11. My teacher, the respected scholar Shohaku Okumura, will give a talk Saturday evening. If the retreat doesn’t fill, there might be some spaces just for the talk. But please read below for what the May retreat was like. It felt much like the Sanshinji “Community-building Retreats” which include silent periods, Dharma talks, sitting, working together, and time to talk.
Thank you to donors. You know who you are.
Reflections on the weekend retreat.
Only three people were registered, and the weather was looking terrible – cold and rain. I nearly canceled; on Thursday I checked to see whether people were still planning to come. They were. And my morel-hunting teacher was up for it, rain or shine. So we met – three of us, Friday night – and planned a schedule that would respond to the weather, going outdoors when it was least likely to rain, scheduling sitting and talks when it looked bad.
We did zazen instruction Friday night, and some words setting a shared intention, and sat together. Saturday morning we
sat at 6 am, walked outside at 7 am down the old road in the woods, and I came back to make breakfast which we ate at 8 am. Instead of the planned sitting and Dharma talk, we did our work practice outdoors in the morning, beginning with some words by Martin Prechtel about how to honor the plants – right relationship, in Buddhist terms. Together we chose where to plant the ferns. We introduced them to the plants that were already there, and asked them to befriend each other (feeling just a little silly, I will admit), and we cooperatively put them in the ground in three chosen places. (There are a few left, and today I found where the others should go – the “island” near the big creek, where the ferns from some years ago are vigorous.
There was time for rest before Perry came (Perry Post, a permaculturist and landscape gardener, who does some projects here) to lead the mushroom expedition.
Me, I can be looking right at a morel and not see it. Angie, she saw them everywhere. Dave did about as badly as me, and Perry guided expertly with just a little personal success. Looking for food in the woods is a spiritual practice of its own. So of course we came back and cooked them for lunch, along with garden walking onions, hostas, and dandelions (and rice and tofu).
It was mid-afternoon, we were tired, and the schedule said Dharma talk plus sitting. So we did – and I don’t even know whether any of that sitting became sleeping or if they were out in the woods again.
Sunday we started again at 6; Doreen just slipped in quietly after driving from Minneapolis; we had more of a schedule because of the rain; I remembered to offer private interviews, and we did cleanup together.
So I had done this crazy thing, scheduling the “Declare Climate Emergency” meeting for 4:00 after closing the retreat at 3. The meeting had five of us, two had been at the retreat. The conversation went deep, and didn’t end on time. We talked of not using internet, phones, email, Skype, electronics to connect with each other, but finding another way. We talked of telepathy and intuition and old ways of connecting. We talked of spiritual working together. And then one of us said, “I do ritual at every new moon and full moon, you can connect with me then.” So it was said. No formal meetings, just a spider-web-like thing of “do this together, without being physically together.”
I’m not accustomed to being with people who understand this way of being. It felt very good. I invite you, too, at the new and full moon, within a day before or after, to offer your own prayer or chanting or ceremony on behalf of whatever moves you. We didn’t even say anything specific, but of course the official subject was climate change.
Something was said then that echoed in something I read today: in ancient cultures, a person with a disability was assumed to be a holy person; their community role was to predict or heal or whatever that might be. How different from this culture, and how different all our lives if we held that understanding.
So the potluck, because of various reasons, had just three of us, who had all been at that meeting. We did listen to a talk, going back to our beginning to Martin Prechtel’s “Grief and Praise,” part 3 but then another one until sleepiness won. Felt like family.
And here I am, not alone any more, with a spiritual community that recognizes mystery, that practices zazen, that is engaged with the world. People are coming here to sit and to engage with the land in a holy way. Mountains and Waters Alliance is.
what do you love?
Not as an abstraction or an ideal
What do you love enough to take action to defend it?
it is under immediate threat
by taking action to defend it, nurture it, grow it
you grow into the person you were meant to be
anger tempered by love becomes purpose
fear tempered by love becomes resolve
why are you here
from the poem “Why are you here?” by Andy Mahler
Forgive my silence. It’s been a time of changes, and writing just didn’t work. Finally, I’m healing from the compulsion to do everything.
Last year my focus was on getting professional work with a stable income. That’s done. I now work 2 days a week in Northfield, in private practice as a psychotherapist, and have enough to invest a little money in the farm. Last year I took a 5-week pilgrimage to sacred spaces and inspiring Buddhist community. This year I’m staying home on the land, this land, caring for it and letting it nourish me. I’m also upgrading the buildings to be more welcoming for retreats and guests, and the hypothetical future residents. Peter Bane, my permaculture teacher, came to do a day-long consult, made a host of recommendations, and left me with a surge of creative energy. The energy is fading a bit, but the vision inspires and I’m taking slow steps. And that workday when four people with a wood splitter put up enough firewood for next year in a shed built by a hired carpenter. 8 hours of heavy work, I was sore for a bit, but happy to have a working body again. Planting small trees now.
And there’s a magic happening at the potlucks, twice now. I don’t even know what made it happen, only remember Jenny asking why I called everybody here, and a series of deep questions from a whole bunch of different people.
I have little to say, it’s too depressing. The likelihood of war with Iran, the increase in authoritarian rulers around the world (including the United States), and a series of increasingly oppressive state laws (Georgia on abortion, South Dakota on criminalizing protest). Yet there is also the growing edge of life, I can’t describe, and the strength of resistance to the death culture.
Climate change is now so obvious it’s mentioned in mainstream news. That’s a fairly random example, I see new ones every day.
And people keep writing wonderful books. The one I want to mention now is not new, though. Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell, describes the way ordinary human beings help each other in catastrophe, when not prevented. And a very old movie about nuclear disaster: Threads. Found in several libraries, lead author Barry Hines, originally from the 1970’s. If you’re not adequately worried, take a look and get really scared about how bad things could be. How important it is to take action – whatever that action might be.
What might I recommend?
Always, sitting meditation. Always, get outdoors, walk on the earth, under trees if you can, listen to birds or water or whatever is available.
And then – I just listened to an 80-minute video of Derrick Jensen, maybe 11-12 years ago, discussing the state of civilization and so forth. It was motivating. Also, he was funny. He does use a lot of bad language.
Work days at the farm (a way to support us, while learning, good times, and good food):
We’re getting by, covering the minimal expenses, and I’m committed to support the Alliance financially as long as necessary. Several of you did sign up for the iGive automatic donation thing, thank you. If a few more people would commit $5/month – or $10/year – we’d be able to do more. If that’s you, look here.
Volunteers are also great. At the farm, or maybe internet help. Email me.
There’s a thing about dancing: it’s an act of life, it expresses being alive in body as well as in heart, and it’s a way of connecting with the world around us. For about ten years of my life, I lived to dance. Then, I went down to the Women’s Coffeehouse whenever they were open and danced until they closed, danced with my full body and attention, through exhaustion and beyond – and it gave me life.
Last weekend I was at a dance sesshin, sponsored by Clouds in Water Zen Center and by Don’t You Feel It Too? And was reminded of that matter of bringing our aliveness and joy into every situation. And I was reminded of Malvina Reynolds’ 1966 song “God Bless the Grass.”.
Dance gives life. Malvina writes about life here. In hard times, when we think society might collapse, when we see fascism in every news item, the most important action is to be alive, to love each other and every thing and every one, to be passionate and fully present – and so we have Dancing at the Gates, the expression of love and spirit that has no specifics yet. The details will evolve.
God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.
I have not much to say today about the world. Julian Assange has been arrested and might be extradited; my friends are of different opinions about him; I’m of the opinion that freedom of the press is more important than specifics of personality or judgment. We have big snow storms here, and across the Midwest, for the second April in a row. I wonder whether this will be the new normal – and how to manage growing food. It has been pointed out that societal collapse has happened everywhere that European civilization met indigenous cultures, and it is going on now not just in Venezuela but everywhere, with the U.S. as a prime example. Most of us are waiting for it to get to us.
I recommend the book by Phyllis Cole-Dai, Beneath the Same Stars: a novel of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Deeply researched, it’s an exploration of what it might have been like for one white woman in that time and place, and includes lots of cultural information as well.
While I’m here, let me also recommend another well-researched fictional series, The Irish Century by Morgan Llywelyn, which begins with the novel 1916 and ends with 1999.
And for lived study/action, please look into dance.
Work days at the farm (please register, it really helps):
This is a space for news and events from groups we’re working with or just things we’d like you to know.
Million Hazelnut Campaign: They are part of the movement to physically interfere with collapse (climate, food, and other) by planting hazelnut trees – which then become the ideal setting for chickens to live, along with a group of other plants and animals. They are asking people to donate $7 to support a single hazelnut tree, to be planted at a farm where they will take care of it. Using this link generates $1 for MWA (us) for each donation – and the trees get planted.
OneEarthSangha: They have been doing webinars about climate emergency from a Buddhist perspective for some years now. The next one is at 11 am Central Time, May 18, the festival of Wesak, and can be found here:
Souland: I just discovered this group in Totnes, England. They seem to be doing beautiful things.
There’s a way to support MWA for almost free. Instead of Amazon Smile, you can use iGive to shop at many online stores with a percentage going to us. Right now, they’re adding $3 just for signing up by May 10 and making a single purchase by May 25. The easiest way is to install their button on your computer; when you shop at an included store the discount will happen automatically with no bother.
And thank you to all who are making a monthly or annual donation – it really helps. What if 20 people gave us $5 a month? It would be incredible! Do that here.