- The Farm
- The Alliance
Paul Kingsnorth‘s essay Dark Ecology begins with a contemplation of the scythe so lovely that I want to run outside right now and grab the scythe. Of course I would have to sharpen it first, and it’s not exactly the season. But, he says, a weed whacker or brush hog isn’t really more efficient than a scythe on the human scale, we’re just conditioned to think it is because it’s noisy and complex. Ivan Illich wrote about what he called “tools for conviviality” – they make us human – the scythe is one of those. The beauty of his words reminded me of why I have those old-fashioned saws and pickaxes and really would rather not use the lawn tractor.
Kingsnorth moves on to reflections on Theodore Kaczynski, whose writings he’s reading, and observes how he became the Unabomber. It was interesting to read his thoughts. LIke him, I was very uncomfortable at the thought of sharing anything at all with the Unabomber. But I do. And perhaps it’s that discomfort that leads him to ask the question of what to do. I find his response very similar to my own, so I’m sharing it here.
I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers:
One: Withdrawing. If you do this, a lot of people will call you a “defeatist” or a “doomer,” or claim you are “burnt out.” They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere, and that “fighting” is always better than “quitting.” Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.
Two: Preserving nonhuman life. The revisionists will continue to tell us that wildness is dead, nature is for people, and Progress is God, and they will continue to be wrong. There is still much remaining of the earth’s wild diversity, but it may not remain for much longer. The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on earth, and you are part of it. What can you do—really do, at a practical level—about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something that isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?
Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.
Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one life-form among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this “ecocentrism” or “deep ecology,” do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig in the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be. Value it for what it is, try to understand what it is, and have nothing but pity or contempt for people who tell you that its only value is in what they can extract from it.
Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?
Morris Berman: Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline.
There are two difficult matters here. The first, obviously, is that he says America is already a failure. To me, that’s painful but admitting it is also a kind of relief. I’m more interested, though, in his point about how America had to fail.
America – the United States – was founded by people who defined themselves in opposition to something else. Pilgrims seeking freedom of religion. Etc. Americans rebelling against Britain. Berman says, when you define yourself negatively rather than positively, you need an enemy in order to have a sense of self. Let me repeat that: When you define yourself negatively (as what you are not), in order to have a sense of self you need an enemy.
Is that what we do, as a culture? Does this explain Trump, and the left-wing resistance, and feminism, and so forth and so on? (Distinguish this from movements based on “Do not kill my people” and you get a feeling.
Life must have its own meaning. We, as individuals and as a society, need an identity.
This is what I’m thinking about right now.
On Saturday, Thich Nhat Hanh returned to his root temple in Vietnam – the place where he entered the Way. He wrote “It has been my deep wish for many years now to return and live where my ancestral teachers lived … until the day this body disintegrates.” (Full letter is here.) Louise Dunlop sent me the video of his return, here.
Sunday morning, Tetsugen Bernie Glassman died. I was eating lunch with my friend Gentle Dragon, who practices with Zen Peacemaker Order, when she got a phone call telling her that he had passed. something about who he was –He was an important person in the world of Buddhist activism – Here’s something about his life.
I had mentioned that someone, quoting me, wanted to call me Roshi and I told her no. GD said, let them call you Roshi. The generation before us is leaving. We have to take our places, we have to step up. (And then she got the phone call. I think that’s the order of how it happened.) Once, there was a Zen abbot who refused ever to move into the abbot’s quarters, keeping his place as student even as he ran the monastery. But mostly, they accept the mantle. Here we are.
My teacher is retiring in a few years. Her teacher is practically retired. And I can see the faces of teachers passed away in the last few years. Our teachers are leaving. It’s time to step up.
This is for me. It might not apply to everyone. People still get to be young, beginners, learners – that time is important. But for me, with 35 years of Zen practice and 6 years since Dharma Transmission, I start to see a difference between hiding and humility.
This is something else, about daily practice:
In an apparent coincidence, my housemate was watching a film series on shamanism, and I joined him to listen to one talk. The speaker, a Peruvian shaman, was talking about always being in ceremony whether we know it or not. He spoke of ways to take care of that, like blessing the water before you drink it and the food before you eat it. And that reminded me: I used to live that way. It’s time to come back. It’s not a hardship, but it is a sacrifice – which means “making holy.”
I’ll write more another time.
And I’m doing some updates on various pages here.
Love to you all.
We live in difficult times. I started to list the events of the week, and gave up – there were too many and it was too depressing. Environmental (loss of species), climate (extreme weather events around the world), politics (fascist president elected in Brazil), and here in the U.S. increasing violence stoked by a President who supports white supremacists and barely manages to express compassion for victims – while cutting away at legal protections of humans and destroying the natural world as fast as possible. But on the other hand, there are extraordinary acts of compassion and courage. Muslims raise thousands of dollars to support the survivors of 11 Jews killed by hate and white supremacy. People are forming a caravan of love to meet the desperate refugee caravan heading for our southern border. And small acts of kindness happen everywhere. While courts occasionally decide in favor of human beings and the living earth.
I wanted to write a beautiful essay that takes all this into account and offers deep inspiration for how to live in these times.
I don’t have it, yet. So meanwhile, because there’s a deadline, I offer one thing: voting as resistance. There’s a saying:
“If voting made any difference, it would be illegal.”
This saying, re-interpreted, tells us why it’s important to vote in this election in particular.
Usually voting is just routine – in this country. The choices are boring, two versions of the corporate-war party, no versions of the human-in-natural-community reality, and one wants to just skip it. With a certain cynicism about how power works, one might feel like a dupe for participating.
This year, the suppression of the vote is so vigorous and so widespread that, I say, it demonstrates that voting actually does matter.
Here is the most concise summary I found of the many ways that people are being prevented from voting – and they are many, and the numbers are enough to change the results, and the people losing their votes are mostly people who we expect to vote Democratic. A Governor in Georgia, a Senator in North Dakota, and many more – please take a look at the article. For the most complete information on voter suppression and fraud over the years, check out Www.blackboxvoting.org, a nonpartisan website founded in 2003 by Bev Harris.
So I’m claiming that the suppression of the vote is itself evidence that your vote matters. I also say this: Voting is not self-expression. It is an exercise of power. We are deciding whether right-wing extremists (now called Republicans) will continue to control all three branches of government, or whether Congress can become a moderating force. The threat of Fascism – as described by people who remember Hitler’s rise to power – is clear and imminent in the United States. Our President is becoming more openly fascist ever day, claiming the right to define truth and override the Constitution, and setting a course of hate and fear.
Thus I say that, regardless of what you think of either party, this year we’re not in a position to boycott the elections. And third party voting is a form of boycott. I’ve done it many times, when it was safe. But this year we really need to vote for the lesser of two evils, because the greater evil threatens to divide the country, encourage murder in the street with impunity, and rewrite toe Constitution. This year, for one week, consider that voting may create a stopgap measure, buying a little time to do the work that must be done.
Voting is an exercise of power. Please use it, and wisely.
For more – Chris Hedges persists in offering depressing but credible analysis. Here’s a recent, long talk.
Please vote, and take all possible actions, and also change the world through acts of kindness, love, and prayers. We are in hard times; may we be refined rather than destroyed.
Peace and love,
From my childhood I remember going on walks in the woods with my father. He would take me and my sister to the “real woods” – not the overgrown orchard where we played all the time – and would talk about things, and he always brought cookies. It was a special time. Once we found a rotted tree stump, and he said “peat moss” and the next time he brought a bag to take it home for the garden.
Yesterday I went out to the woods on probably our last warm day for the season. I went to heal, to renew my connection with the land, damaged as it was from the tornado. I hadn’t noticed I was hiding indoors, but there it was. I found tiny sugar maples, and praised them; one Korean nut pine is alive and well, and I spoke encouraging words. And in the many, many fallen trees I noticed how many were hollow, or aging, or beginning to rot inside. Peat moss.
Some places are barely recognizable. The ancient cedar tree is standing but tilted. The old paths, sometimes, are covered with fallen branches or giant trees. The woods are more open – and I can feel the possibility of change, of renewal. Remembering the image of storms as cleansing. New things will happen here. I will be able to allow them.
Some of the old sacred places are simply buried. I can’t get to the East Gate at all, and the North Gate now requires a long walk. But the river still sings, and the favorite place on the bluffs is open and beautiful. The higher places are changed. By the creek, the bluffs are radiant.
This time I was able to take pictures. Because I begin to be ready to move forward, to let the land recover, to let it be.
I gave a talk recently, and have found some old talks that aren’t posted yet. I don’t know how to put them in the proper web page, but I’m temporarily putting the new one here. And the potluck group has started listening to talks by Martin Prechtel, here.
Today I’ll write about the first few days, when I drove through South Dakota, Nebraska, and stayed in the Black Hills.
After that, I went to Colorado for a two-week retreat (Ecodharma Summer Camp) with Impermanent Sangha. I returned to the Black Hills, stopping first at Devils Tower (Bear Lodge), then spending 3 days in the Hills, going to a second ceremony, spending two days at a Sundance, and driving home.
I had forgotten Dignity, a magnificent statue in Chamberlain, SD, but when I saw the sign I remembered and instantly turned off. I’d heard, but was still amazed by the power of her presence. I lingered, offered tobacco, watched children climbing on her skirts and parents taking pictures, and took photos myself. This became the opening of the retreat.
I slept that night in a remote Nebraska state park, and took time to slow down before driving to an ceremony to which I’d been invited. It poured all day, so instead of inipi (sweat lodge) we had a house ceremony indoors. It doesn’t feel right to speak about it, only to acknowledge the invitation, the welcome, and the generosity of my hosts. But Doyle said I might hear from the Thunder Beings, especially the next four days.
I drove on to the Black Hills and found the small Forest Service campground I’d selected online: Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground. I pitched my tent in the back near the hills, ate, and thought I’d take a little walk along the creek, allowing for an early start in the morning. I gathered everything and then, just for a moment, followed impulse to take five minutes and check out what was behind me in the hills. Two hours later I returned. No water, no photos, nothing. Magical, sacred ground.
I was walking carefully, avoiding the poison ivy, occasionally eating raspberries, and going where my feet took me. I’d stop and soak in the energy of a place. Then I’d think I should go back, but would feel called to go to another place. Just over there. And over there. Up on that rock. Down that hill. Sit zazen for a while in this place. Talk/listen with that stone.
At one point, I caught a glimpse of the carving of the four Presidents – glistening white rock – through the trees. Well, the highway was just below me, and I’d been hearing cars. I turned left, thinking I really should head back to the campground. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and it was at least 6 pm when I started.
I came across a field of crystals, seeming to grow up from the earth. I picked up a few, asking permission and offering tobacco every time. Then there was a giant white crystal – well, 4-5” across – that called. Again I asked permission. (As far as I can tell, regulations actually allow this. I looked.) I gave back the little crystals and picked up the big one. Carried it in my hands, because I had come with nothing. Climbed up, across, down, and around, some scary rock faces just above the road I needed. Somehow, when I actually came down, I was inside the campground, a hundred feet from my tent. And it was time for bed.
The next day, I went to climb Black Elk Peak. I will offer pictures in the next posting. All I’ll say right now is that I was halfway down when the hail started. I hid, thinking it would pass. It let up, I moved along, and hid in trees with a family when the next hail came. We all moved down, and hid again. Under trees, under rock faces, – repeating. A whole crowd of us was doing this walk and hide, walk and hide, and the hail was getting bigger. If I’d known there would be 3/4” hail, I would have walked on through the little stuff. Finally I could see the parking lot, and decided to just run for it – and was so tired that I slipped and fell. I walked on. A second hailstone hit the big bump from the first big hailstone. I just kept going, heading for the bathroom that had running water and heat.
After warming up a bit, I got my clothes, stripped completely and put on dry stuff, wrung out the wet clothes, and headed for a restaurant. Excuse me, lodge. Everything there is fancy. And as I was finishing eating, the waiter told me that a man had paid for my meal – and didn’t want to be identified. I assume it was somebody who’d been on the hail walk with me.
I texted Nikki and said “Tell Doyle to tell the Thunder Beings that wasn’t funny” – and explained what had happened. They both agreed it had to do with the Thunder Beings. (associated with thunder, lightning, storms,…)
My tent was dry; lots of places got hail, but that wasn’t one of them. I crawled into bed and slept hard.
February 8, 2019
BLACK HILLS CONTINUED
Continuing with Day 5 in the Black Hills. I wanted, urgently, to go back to the Rock People and walk down among them. I didn’t quite know where they were. I only knew that I’d pulled off in a blinding snowstorm, taken a walk when it let up, got hailed on, hid in the car, took another walk when it let up – and met these magnificent beings. I sheltered in a sort of cave, and watched and watched. I asked them for help; the hail started up very intensely, and I thought they said yes. Eventually the thought occurred that the sheltering rock could fall down and smash me. Silly, but I left, returned to the car, and drove down to Rapid City for a planned dinner with Karen Little Thunder. She’d come on the Walk for a day plus. This day was when I came to recognize a deep connection with her, and a very deep respect. She talked with me about hail in Lakota understanding, about the rock beings, and about her own spiritual practice. That conversation placed my experience into a deep and wide context. I honor that by not speaking more.
This time, two years later, I wanted to take all the time needed with these beings.
Journal notes from the morning:
I wasn’t able to write after Black Elk Peak and the hailstorm, the people all together, and finally safe. Someone bought my dinner, probably one of those men.
Today, slow, little walks, drying things out, building a fire to warm last of the chili for breakfast, now looking for the place with the rock people. Took photos at Heddy Draw. Looked up and saw an old fort. Sleeping long into daylight, from exhaustion of the hike and the hailstorm. Looking for the rock people. Slow, fatigue. Left a song offering to the valley behind, coming down. Saw the right way to walk up, back to my car.
From memory: I drove and drove looking for the place and not finding it. Finally, mid-afternoon, having passed the park boundary, I returned and showed the photo to a gatekeeper, who was also a rock climber. He knew the place and told me how to find it: the Sunday trail, which begins at the far side of Sylvan Lake. I’d been near there for the hike to Black Elk Peak. I drove there, followed the signs, and found the Sunday trail. The signs said “difficult” and “3.5 hours.”
Actually, this trail is more like a waterfall climb – mostly downhill, often in the rushing water, often clinging to bars positioned there. I was wearing my barefoot toe shoes and very grateful; it was fine to be in the water. And I looked, again and again, for the Rock People. There were so many rock people, I took so many pictures, and it went on and on. And on and on, and getting dark. Suddenly I found myself at the place I’d been two years before – looking out at them. This time, I could follow the trail that led straight toward them. So I did.
I don’t know what to say. The energy was there. I was getting cold. I made some offerings but couldn’t stay, headed back to the lake and around it toward the building. I’d thought of taking a swim at the end, but like the night before I was too cold.
I wound up driving for hours to get the last room in a restored hotel in some small town. Heat. Bath. I wanted a hot meal but had to eat my travel food. I slept on a comfortable bed in a stuffy room at a reasonable price. The next morning I drove to Denver, a very long way and my GPS misdirected me in Montana, but anyway I arrived. Was hosted by a stranger with Buddhist connections, a fascinating woman. Thursday morning I had a phone meeting with the Advisory Council, and that afternoon I connected with my daughter and granddaughter who were checking out a college. A strange but wonderful thing to do. The next night was with another fascinating Buddhist woman, completely different from the first. And then I left to pick up my rider and drive to Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center.
PART 2: COLORADO: ECODHARMA SUMMER CAMP
From memory: The focus was meditation in nature, rising to sit with the sunrise, morning hikes with long sitting periods on the land, afternoons on our own, and evening talks.
Last night, sitting in robes, felt right. This morning, okesa out on the hillside, now I’m at home. [I continued to wear robes and okesa in the morning sits.]
Johann’s “feeling out” – noting sensations without labels and such – difficult, seems fruitful. Twice now, knot in solar plexus dissolved by end of sit. But a sense of massive sadness lodged there. Stop thinking about this.
Solo: We each found a spot on the land for a two-day solo. It was raining, and I thought most of my solo would be in the tent. It wasn’t. I was strongly drawn to a certain hilltop; I pitched my tent between two trees so the wind couldn’t blow it away; made a circle within which I would stay – with an opening to the hilltop. When weather allowed I climbed there and spent hours. Food was stashed far away from the tent, in a bear canister. It was a hard time. I made an effort to meet the various beings there. I remember a moose visiting, eating tree leaves on the other side of the circle, and being afraid unreasonably. It was there for a long time. Of course nothing happened.
Sunday, July 29 – There was a break between the weeks, and time to write. I have only copied my personal journal notes, uncensored. Don’t think about the names of people. (I’m tempted to remove what seems like self-pity or foolishness. I’m going to leave them. But skip what doesn’t make sense.)
The grief that came up in the solo – I don’t know about the fear – is from a wasted life, wasted gifts, inability to offer. It’s lifelong, but at this late date the pressure is intense. The anger at my gifts not being accepted.
7:20 am What I came for, asked for: to remove the blocks to being effective – to doing the work.
8:20 am Thinking of what seems like Alice’s aversion – disagreeing with all my proposals – does she see me as deficient because I have special food needs? Vivienne’s self-confidence, meeting with the leaders, taking air space – a different quality than David’s, a harsh edge – Johann’s being at home with his place in the world, self-confident. Anyway I was remembering E [a mentor 20 years before] telling me that the way I was persecuted and misunderstood (childhood) is the mark of “one of those” – the contrary.
And I’ll never have a 20-year friendship on which to build a working relationship. Until 90, maybe 85.
Life is so rich and beautiful – and it’s because of the work, because it pushes me outward to embrace – but the work is not getting done. What would E say? That this is the work.
Picking berries – the rich, dark, juicy ones always grow in the shade. [from a poem 30 years ago]. But how long, I ask, how long to ripening? Apparently I’m still in painful spring – and in a hurry, afraid, angry, creating myself/finding who I am.
1 pm, after a walk. The gifts of hear-out and feel-out – calming. Could have stayed forever at Creekside: kindness of creek sounds and flowers and green things. Beauty of the aspen leaves.
Noticing: I think I should have the strengths and wisdom of both David and Johann [retreat leaders]. Meaning, all their gifts plus my own. Particularly ability to negotiate the corposystem, one way or another. Attract people and money, speak with confidence. But it’s not so. My gifts are my own, not yet complete, but do not require degrees in philosophy or 20 years living in Hawaii. They require more zazen time and learning from the earth. And losing the idea – or healing it – that something is wrong with me.
That something is wrong, or that my message is too dangerous so nobody will listen?
In that second week, on Wednesday they took us on an all-day venture to the Indian Peaks wilderness area. I was astounded by beauty and holiness, and I wanted to stay for days. Of course we were in a no-camping area. I made an excuse (to myself) to bring a camera and take photos.
Was it Thursday or Friday that we had the one-day solo? I found a beautiful place and settled in, and was nourished. And it was here that I made the vow to protect the pine trees, the impossible vow. I find some writing in the journal, will let it speak for me.
Date probably August 2 or 3
1:45 pm [I was exploring how the vow might manifest] The pines: Everywhere around the world they are. Can send moisture from dust to dry places. Too far. Through the clouds? The vast intelligence of pines? One vast fungal network? One tree, one grove, resistant to the beetles, another resists blister rust. They change their chemistry to repel them, and they send those genetic changes through the usual channels – lightning fast. Whole forests no longer weakened. Immense system. Change their DNA to be less flammable, especially needles and bark.
6:30 pm Happy with group process. Spoke first, of clear vision but hindrances, effectiveness, need tribe. The final list feels complete, with individual, community, and strategic action.
August 6, Monday morning, at Kritee’s house
Back in ordinary world, with things to do. Talking with Kritee, she more wanted to help me than something else – but I will have to ask her. In talking, she heard me say “Going deeper into mystery is the strategy.” I’m thinking “when the teacher is ready the student appears.” [various plan thoughts] What is it I want from Kritee about strategy? Ahh – the big question of where are the weak points, the strong points, in people, the energetic nodes –
Looking at the deeper picture. Now to actually unlock the foundations that lock the Three Poisons into the workings of society.
Thoughts about organizations and activism:
August 6, notes from meeting with Kritee – somewhat random.
Read the Powell memo and the Meadows memo – both online. “More is better”!
Changing the narrative:
We talked about people from the retreat who might be in a strategy group. I contacted all. One person responded. And she observes that face-to-face contact is essential before using email to organize. And we talked so long that I didn’t reach Bear Lodge that night, but slept in the car at a roadside rest – together with a lot of truckers and a few families. I reached it in the morning, before open, and was able to enter.
PART 3: BEAR LODGE, BLACK HILLS, AND HOME
Bear Lodge – known as Devil’s Tower, but its traditional name is Bear Lodge, a sacred site.
Bikers everywhere – enjoying all the colorful style. Sturgis rally 20 miles away. [I walked around it as sun was rising; magnificence! Later sat and napped in early morning sun. People started coming, many walkers on the path around the peak. Walked around, scrambled across boulders…
Near the end of the circle, walked toward the colors of tobacco/cloth offerings, found myself in a holy place. Must be ages of prayers and offerings here. Left my given tobacco tie, wished I’d made full colors. Then thought. Named myself, asked permission to pray. Offered same prayers as on the mini-solo: “Find me people to do the work with. Friends, loving each other.”
Notice a turning in myself: less speaking/allying with rocks, move toward people. Now: warm good feeling in solar plexus.
Coughing last night while setting up to sleep in car. Think it’s loneliness. Fine today. Not turning away from people [seems to make things] ok. Don’t know what else.
August 8, Wednesday evening, Oreville campground in Black Hills. Journal notes
Yesterday Bear Lodge, a drive, settling into camping. Today, Sylvan Lake. Two hours walk into the Sunday Trail, sitting with big rocks, meeting a deer, going off-trail, talking to the big rocks at a peak where I could see the original rest area.
Then trying to swim but didn’t. Got immersed in the cold water, finally, for a bath. Then put on toe shoes and went down the Sunday creek Trail again. Drawn to cross the creek to a multicolored rock face. Spoke, made offerings, voice offering, asked for help. Felt the lichen. Something gentle and alive. Felt the rock too. Asked for the one who will join me, and then for more. Don’t remember much.
Returning, climbing up the waterfalls was a joy. Giving youth, (losing frailty and uncertainty), physical vigor and balance.
Noticing changes: there was a “thing” about talking to beings. It seems released. Don’t know mind. Maybe because Johann and Kritee know it too. Anyway it’s let go. And they still communicate. My song offerings are getting stronger.
And the big next step is making friends.
The plan tomorrow is to pack up and go spend the day in those hills behind Grizzly Creek.
I found Wrinkled Rock not far from Grizzly Creek, but for climbers. [It had a feeling of community, unlike most campgrounds – people talked with each other, sat around a fire together, climbed a small rock together.]
Sitting was good, I want more. It’s getting dark, at only 8:30. Eat the peach and then bed.
August 10, Friday morning, Wrinkled Rock – last day.
Reluctant to write. To write about this. And there’s the thing. It feels like desecration, like making it less. [The day I spent on that sacred hill – climbing around, but never finding again the place I had been two weeks before. I didn’t write, and I can’t say.]
And with my last 2 hours, what to do? Last night stayed up late talking with two women, it was so easy, they just talked on and on and it felt good. I could nap. Sit more. Work on the logo. Or go back to places, or to a new place.
August 14, Tuesday night
I was at Sundance for nearly two days. I will not write about that. Though I felt compelled to be present witnessing the ceremony, all the time – and became overheated and dried out as a result. And did some healings on some people, and felt grateful to be able to offer that and have it received.
As soon as I was away, the diarrhea started. Surely related to the heat, possibly bad water – but nothing happened while I was on Sundance grounds. I stopped at the nearest open motel and slept well into the morning.
Journal: But last night a dream. I’ve come to a group of people living together, who wear bright colors, flowing clothes, and seem gentle, happy, and playful. There’s a reason I’m there, but now I can’t remember. I ask the leader, a young man, some question about activism. He laughs and says their activism is this. Trying to put it into words, I say “creating the future” or “joy” or “the center” – I don’t recall my words, but clearly none of them quite get it.
And this is the end of the retreat journal. It’s incredibly long, yet a mere outline. I hope there might be a few things in here that speak to you; please let go of the rest. Reading and remembering has nourished me.
Suddenly I noticed that for most of my life, my attention was on me. On who I was, on being good, on being great – on supporting an idea I had of who I was. Sometimes this would be about being good enough, acceptable. Or about resentment and anger at those who didn’t recognize my greatness – my wisdom, my courage, my commitment.
It’s hard to remember just how miserable I was in those days. It seemed normal to me then, and this seems normal to me now. It was a flash of memory, of myself in a certain situation – and then in another – recalling that mind, focused on myself and not on those I was supposedly there to help – that brought this now.
It comes back occasionally, mostly in the form of resentment again, when others are recognized and I am not. This is my weak point now. Mostly it’s hidden from others. Seeing it, I can now address it. Gratitude for this glimpse.
And chanting, today, feels like turning the wheels of the universe, my contribution to the activity of life. It’s real.
May 27, 2018
On Zen, religion, chanting, and wearing the robes
Six weeks ago I noticed that chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani is an action that reaches into the very structure of the universe. It DOES something. I started paying attention to this while chanting every morning. It began to feel like a gift, from me into the foundation of all being. I thought of this specifically about the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, long known as a magical chant to bring well-being, composed of ancient sounds that have no meaning in any modern language.
The Heart Sutra has a similar reputation, and I tried it out, chanting in Sino-Japanese with the thought that English words would distract my intention. It wasn’t so clear.
Then, yesterday, I read some words from Martin Prechtel, teacher of indigenous wisdom. He said that whenever you receive something from the gods, you must offer them something. Receiving something includes food, clothing, shelter – everything is received, and must be paid for. What humans have to offer is what we make ourselves. He particularly spoke of beauty, art, and song. And yesterday I went into the woods, forgetting my tobacco (which I offer instead of incense, for several reasons), and then wanted to make an offering. I remembered Martin’s words, and sang a song. I didn’t think, at that moment, of offering one of the Zen chants.
This morning I made sure I had offerings, the usual ones: flowers, the best water I’ve got (my only contribution is bringing it), and a candle flame. I did the usual morning service: three prostrations, the Heart Sutra in English, followed by its dedication to “every being and place,” and the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, with its long dedication to Buddhas, ancestors, spirits of many kinds, and then several lists of humans and nonhumans. I listened to the words and felt them as an offering. The English was a vehicle not an obstacle. My voice and meaning were directly a gift.
After chanting like this for over thirty years, finally I’m learning its meaning. And more. Religion, “to bind back,” means binding ourselves to what is sacred, to what is beyond cognitive understanding. Martin spoke of our offerings as payments to the gods. There are some things his people just don’t do because they’re too expensive – not materially but in terms of time, offerings, rituals – so they have no cars or cellphones. I intend to learn more about that sense of balance. Right now, it looks to me like this: Being in relationship involves giving and receiving. A relationship based on buying and selling, on exact exchange, is hollow – like most commercial transactions in the world where I live. A relationship based on unequal giving and receiving is an unequal relationship – appropriate perhaps for parent and child, but otherwise exploiting. A relationship with generous giving and joyful receiving, in both directions, is what we want. And that is the kind of relationship I want to have with the universe as a whole, and with all the people in it.Zazen also is an offering. I’ve said before that to sit zazen is to consciously participate in the great act of creating each other, all beings in the universe, that act which goes on with or without our knowledge. Now its quality as offering appears. I sit down, I offer myself, my whole self, to participate in the mutual co-creation – which is also my whole self.
AND – wearing the robe. Now I see more of why I wear the robe every morning for zazen and service. It acknowledges. It places this human body and mind into the sacred context, as one who offers. Remembering that the first time I wanted to wear the okesa was when I watched Katagiri Roshi bowing at the altar while we all chanted the names of the ancestors. That day, I could feel the energy flowing through his moving body toward the altar and up, out to the universe. That day, I wanted to take that place and let the energy flow through me.
That’s the difference between philosophy and religion. Relationship. Love. Gratitude. Offering. There is nothing but offering.
Last Monday I returned from 10 days of Zen – first, teaching in Columbus, Ohio, where my student Don Brewer lives and practices. He and Marge hosted me magnificently, and a total of perhaps 40 people came to the events – a climate change workshop and an all-day sit being among them. Between times, mostly I rested, and socialized with a few people. I don’t know why I was so tired. But this teaching – it requires something, and I’m not accustomed to it. I’d found myself unable to plan. Friday evening, I was full of anxiety – having to create the workshop as we went along, even though I’d written an outline. I heard it was good, and then relaxed a little. And then it became clear what to say on Sunday, and that was easier. I liked that talk, and I’d like to retrieve it.
I’d like to retrieve many of my talks, now that I’m managing to record them on my phone. The “learning new technology” thing is a barrier. I’ve learned lots of technology, and you always have to learn another one. So I try to get the recordings onto my laptop, hoping some day for the energy or for help to process and share them.
And it would really be better to write things as I go. That was over a week ago, and it’s faded. I’ll try harder.
From Columbus, Don drove me to Terre Haute, Indiana, where I visited my old friend in prison. He’s been on Death Row for years, has exhausted all his appeals, and keeps thinking he’ll “get a date” some time soon. His life hangs on national politics and what the President cares about – and what Congress is willing to do. He renewed his promise to let me know, so I can try to be there.
Then the treat: a 5-day teaching retreat, called Genzo-e, with my teacher Shohaku Okumura and friends Taigen Leighton and Byakuren Judith Ragir. Judith was one of the first people I knew in Zen, and is ten years ahead of me. I always admired her, but now with my own stability in practice I listened and heard the depth and power of her teaching. The text was “Gyo-butsu Igi,” a writing by ancestor Dogen, about practice-buddhas, dignified conduct or (different translation) awesome presence. I don’t know what to say, but hopefully I’ll write something in “study group” later.
I pitched my tent on the grass behind the dorm, and learned how to get there on time. In support of me, they didn’t burn incense while I was there. But the windows were closed most of the time – cold, heat, rain, or outside noise during lecture – and I had to wear my mask nearly all the time. The first day I tried to cheat, and had a very bad evening – so I kept the mask on after that unless the air was completely clear. I hadn’t thought I could tolerate wearing it for five days, but, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, I did, and the zazen was supportive and the talks were brilliant, exciting, and nourishing. And it’s lovely to just be a student, with no responsibilities other than to keep the schedule and harmonize with the other practitioners. I left happy – and wondering whether it’s realistic to return. But I will, in the same way, because my teacher plans to retire in five years. I envy him a bit: at 70, he has a whole life work behind him. At 70, I’m just beginning mine. Probably started at 65, when I led the Compassionate Earth Walk, a life-changing experience. But Mountains and Waters, still in its very early phases, is my life work. Whatever it turns out to be – two years ago I went on a retreat in the mountains with David Loy and Johann Robinson, and everything turned upside down. Last year I spoke with some ancient characters carved on a hillside, and things moved again. This summer I’m taking a longer retreat, in the mountains again, to allow things to turn again, allow myself to be moved.
I ran a Facebook fundraiser for Mountains and Waters Alliance (MWA). I thought about $2000 would really be enough to pay for building the website and maybe operating it for a year or so. But FB says ask for small amounts so people will feel good. I set a goal of $1000. Then FB says “offer matching funds” so I offered to match the first $500. The bummer – $500 actually was donated, FB tells me to produce on my pledge so I donate $500 – and then FB says I’ve met my goal! Grrrr. I donate money to MWA all the time, they’re not supposed to count my donation. So I wrote a note and one more person has donated… But the $950 in unsolicited donations earlier this year will probably take care of the website.
I hate asking people for money, or any kind of self-promotion. I know too many people raising money $5 at a time for food, for gas, for bail money for front-line activism – or because they’re being bombed in Gaza. I feel guilty, then consider it and know that I’m doing what I think is most useful – So I went back to work, as a psychotherapist, which is both well-paid and something I enjoy. Well, I do enjoy it, but the money isn’t coming in the way I wanted, and the work is expanding way beyond the allotted two days per week. Because I have to keep learning, and because there’s administrative work even though the clinic does the billing. So I’m tired a lot and trying to figure out ways to cut back. When successful, my total (including Social Security) will be over $20,000 a year – comfortable to live on, but not enough to move forward with MWA or upgrading the farm.
I’ll post just a note in “Study Group” because I promised weekly. I don’t have time to write a proper blog post. I feel just fine about prioritizing in-person human contacts, but this other stuff gets lost. Wishing I had a “social media” person. Oh well. Spring is here and I’ll be outdoors with friends shortly.
In a facebook conversation, I found a new expression of what this work is about. So often I get discouraged, disheartened. Something like this popped into my mind. And, since I’m trying to write a pitch for a fundraising campaign, I made words trying to express it.
Imagine every tree and mountain, bird and earthworm and mushroom, every river and every inch of earth engaged in a great act of giving life to each other, to everyone, all the time.
Imagine it’s really that way, and we’re the only ones refusing to be part of it.
The evidence is mounting up: this is the way the natural world works. Let’s join it.
Daydreaming about visiting Daniela Myozen at Furnace Mountain Zen Center. Such a long way, so much fossil fuels and I dislike driving. Daydreaming about walking or bicycling. Imagining a walking pilgrimage: leave home. Stop at Terre Haute and visit my friend in prison there. Walk to Sanshinji, along a road I’ve driven so often. Walk to Louisville to meet a new friend. Pilgrimage to Port Royal, honoring Wendell Berry, if he would accept a visitor. Walk to Furnace Mountain.
I thought then I’d walk to my grandchildren in Atlanta, but that adds almost 400 miles and I’ll be tired by then. I’ll get a ride to Atlanta. So the walk is 843 miles.
A lot of beautiful roads. I have walked 10 miles a day, but could work my way up to 20. – so it’s something over 42 days. Call it 2 months, with rest stops and all. Carrying a pack. Need a super-light tent – or finish making that bivy sack I started on the Compassionate Earth Walk in 2013. And need to be in shape. (*Update: I bought a super-light tent, under 3 pounds).
I would have to be really retired, and need to leave the farm in somebody’s care. I want to do it. I could start exercising now, start getting in shape. Walking. Biking. As much as possible.
A modest proposal: Since it takes 5 adults to raise an emotionally healthy human (said by some, makes sense to me) we could reduce population rather quickly by changing the way we do child-raising. Instead of one or two parents exhausted by their children (these days, including paid day care and the rest, and the endless shuttling to camps and lessons for those who can afford it), how about 5 couples have two children, raise them together, put their joy into them. Of course they will want to have a bigger family – a crowd for the children to grow with – each set of 10 adults/2 children could have a crowd, maybe a total of 50 adults/10 children or so, for the informal kinds of schooling, playing, ball games or gardens or walks in the wood….
Another advantage: you could have children without having to be married. Big advantage: HELP! And saving the planet is not to be ignored.
Having those kids at age 30 instead of age 20 is also helpful. Reduces the multiplier effect.
In one generation each billion could become 200 million. In the second generation that billion is 40 million; in the third generation it’s 8 million, and in the fourth generation we’re down to a livable population.
Of course it’s too slow for the actual pace of climate change. So what?
Let me add – this is for the wealthy countries, places where people can expect Social Security and other systems, not needing their children to support them in old age. Start here. The others will follow when that matter of old age support is handled.
I’m preparing to teach a class at the Northfield Buddhist Center. It’s an Introduction to Zen series, and this class is called “What’s it good for?” I actually didn’t know what I was going to say. I went looking in books. (Sure, the answer is there inside me. But it’s nice to have company, companions, and it’s nice to ask for help sometimes.)
First I found Sawaki Roshi (my Dharma great-grandfather) say “transform your life from a half-baked, incomplete way to a genuine way.” And some more.
Then in Living by Vow, by my own teacher, I found a bookmark that took me to his story of when he was physically unable to sit zazen. in the way he had been doing for years. He says “My previous practice had been an attempt to satisfy a need for status and benefit. I wanted to live a better life than ordinary people.” Unable to do it because of his physical condition, he became perplexed and depressed. He was stuck. Then, one day, he sat down on a cushion for no reason. “I didn’t sit because of the Buddha’s teaching. I didn’t need a reason to sit; I just sat. … Finally I felt free of my understanding…free to be myself and nothing more.”
I’m still sitting with the arrogance of youth and health. Still living, acting, practicing in that way – wouldn’t have noticed it. I won’t say that he was fortunate to have a back injury in his 20’s, and I always think that I am fortunate to be vigorous and healthy in my 60’s. But the arrogance! May I soon be free of the arrogance of youth and health.
Maribel Barajas Cortes, 25, a Green Party candidate in Mexico, was murdered. Since last fall, 60 candidates in Mexico have been murdered. https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Mexico-Green-Party-Candidate-Becomes-Latest-Victim-of-Pre-elections-Killings-20180412-0020.html
The United States launched missiles at Syria yesterday, supposedly about the chemical weapons blamed on Syria’s president. Britain and France also sent weapons. Russia threatens to destroy the aircraft carrier from which the missiles were sent. People in the U.S. are organizing demonstrations: SpringAction2018.org
A poll on my facebook page asks “Which would you rather die of? Climate change or World War III?”
Republicans in Congress are retiring in large numbers. Maybe they hope not to be there for the impeachment vote. Unauthorized missile attacks is said to be an impeachable offense.
It’s mid-April, snow is coming down, and friends in Nebraska and South Dakota are in blizzards, some with power out. Climate change is really here. How many cities and countries now face water shortages? Floods? Hunger?
And the condition of the nation, of the world, of civilization is being exposed, even as the corruption of the current U.S. administration is being exposed.
Thich Nhat Hanh, via Maia Duerr:
In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression – face, voice – communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
Hearing there are bombs in the air
I vow with all beings
To breathe them into my own body
And stop these madmen before it’s too late
There’s a temptation to cling as long as possible to the appearance of normalcy. But nothing is normal, unless lies, death, toxic food, rampant murder, extreme poverty with extreme wealth, and the destruction of the living world are what you call normal. I choose not to call them normal, but pathological. The veneer of civilization is coming undone. The brutality behind it already started appearing as refugees were refused everywhere, and with the violence at Standing Rock and in Gaza, and as the appearance of a safety net is destroyed in the U.S. – enough.
This note on what settler privilege means – yes, that includes me – and then some more good thoughts.
“Having settler privilege means that some combination of one’s economic security, U.S. citizenship, sense of relationship to the land, mental and physical health, cultural integrity, family values, career aspirations, and spiritual lives are not possible—literally!—without the territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbCar3aGadc&feature=youtu.be John Trudell on European tribes and what happened
How to forgive myself and my ancestors for becoming the colonizers – because we were the colonized. He describes how captured people first submitted their bodies, then submitted their minds and beliefs – and then all is lost.
American Jews are harshly criticizing Israel. Finally.
“Right to exist” is questioned. Well it should be. One nomadic pastoral people, Jews, millennia ago, decided to settle down on land occupied by another pastoral people, Palestinians whatever they called them then. I believe God told them to do it. They claimed ownership of the land.
Nobody owns the land.
This is the first and fundamental mistake.
Like Europeans entering the Americas, claiming it because the inhabitants knew better than to objectify and “own” it – it’s not exactly the same but worth mentioning. The Doctrine of Discovery is closer – Christians have the right to kill and dispossess everybody else… Jews, the Chosen People, have that right.
Like Europeans enclosing the commons, so a person could not live off the land as they had done for generations, – but here it’s by race, not only by class.
May this awakening continue. May American Jews remember what Judaism really means, and may they remember that we are wanderers on the face of the earth.
And the Keystone pipeline refuses to behave properly. I thought, “Is it possible that the earth herself is rising up?”
Trees talk to each other and support each other. Forester Suzanne Simard. I look forward to the day she gets the Nobel Prize, because she already deserves it. EVERYONE IS A SENTIENT BEING!
Patagonia is suing the Trump administration for undoing monument protection for several lands. There has never been a legal case on this before. I was just encouraged. And I’ll look into buying from Patagonia, the next time I actually buy new stuff.
This morning, chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, I brought my mind back from wandering to give full attention to what I was doing. Making sounds that are meant to produce magical effects, which translate to words praising Avalokiteshvara, the great being of compassion.
Suddenly it became real. With full attention, it became clear that my chanting was addressing the very source of the universe, the locus of all causes and conditions. Suddenly I was certain that there is nothing else I need to do. I can’t tell you what that means, I need to find out.
Here are some groups – and approaches – that I think are effective.
Those are all environmental groups. I’ve chosen to focus on climate change even though I don’t ignore the rest. I always choose to work with the cause.
Ancient communities combined farming with wild food gathering https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/lets-go-wild-how-ancient-communities-resisted-new-farming-practices
David Abram – Alliance for Wild Ethics
I woke up this morning with the thought: “Is this the most useful thing I can be doing?” I spend a lot of time on the farm – taking care of it, thinking about it, managing people who work with me on it, finding volunteers, looking for money – my whole life revolves around it now. That question often arises.
This morning, there was an answer. It was very clear. The answer was “No.” The most useful thing I could be doing is teaching Zen.
I’m not going to make a lot of words around that right now. The answer came as it is. I will say that for me teaching Zen is the way to point directly to what matters, to the liberation of the spirit.
The question remains whether this farm is the most useful setting for my teaching of Zen. That question will take care of itself.