- The Farm
- The Alliance
The problems with the online groups have been resolved. The links on the website now work for joining Zoom groups. Briefly, here’s what’s coming up.
Wednesday April 29, 6:30-8 pm – Zen study group. Here is the Zoom link We are currently working with the book Living by Vow; details on the event page. If you would like to come for the first time, please email Shodo. It’s okay to come before you have the book. Please note that we’re skipping a week.
Life has been intense and busy; I’m working from home, offering additional groups, and writing. Here are some thoughts on the pandemic; there will be more.
We’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. I was there 50 years ago, with my husband and infant daughter, in the college gym. Senator Gaylord Nelson had said “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.” Zero Population Growth was pushing for people to have just two children. There was so much enthusiasm, so much hope, so much energy.
It seems lifetimes ago. If I’d even remotely imagined that we would be HERE, now, I would have done something. But I believed that government worked, business leaders were honest, and technology could solve everything.
I wish I could have those simple easy beliefs back, but reality intervened. We are now paying the price for that naivete that we all preferred – and for not saying NO to things that were obviously unworkable.
We are facing life and death. Sure, we always have, but now it’s impossible to ignore. Things are uncertain and unpredictable – they always have been, but the scale is worse. Sooner or later, each of us will die, as will those we love – we cannot rely on anyone or anything. Taking care of our actions is a way to be steady, to be stable, to be calm – as well as to contribute to our world.
The Coronavirus attacks the lungs. Lungs are grief – in Chinese medicine. Grief is frozen sorrow, piercing sadness with a cause. There’s an association with injustice in the history of the word.
I was thinking about our collective grief, our unspoken mourning for the loss of the world we once lived in, for the liveliness that we remember in our daily lives, for the many individuals dying and species ending. Here now, with the virus, here is a mourning, here is a whole people mourning with our bodies. Here is a whole people giving up our entertainments (reluctantly) and contemplating how we might care for each other, how we might collectively survive and heal…. We are mourning with our lungs, with our coughs, with our fevers.
We live in a time of immense grief, and also fear.
Some grief is obvious. Climate change may kill us all, we mourn the loss of a future, or of a beautiful future for our children and grandchildren. I miss drinking water directly from a lake, I miss the woods where I grew up roaming wild, and the safety to do so as a child. So many have much more to grieve: murdered indigenous women; Covid-19 striking African-Americans hardest; chronic illnesses related to environmental factors. Wars. Health problems. Poverty. Violence against immigrants, against people of color, against women, against trans people.
But I want to go back further, and deeper. I want to say,
The core grief is that we don’t trust the world in which we live. We think we have to manage it. Like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God. We have to be God, because we no longer trust the gods – or God, or the spirits, or the plants and animals and mountains and rivers. We are on our own. We are orphans. There is no mystery, no unknowable. And we are not God, or gods. We are humans with powerful technology who deny that anything is still holy.
I don’t mean that you and I deny it. I mean our culture denies it.
This is tragic. We are cut off from most of life.
In this culture, humans are like gods. We have the right to use everything, consume what we want, build, pave, ship, plow, create. We even create new forms of life through genetic engineering. And we are the only ones that matter. If we kill other humans en masse, we call it genocide; if we kill animals en masse we call it food production, and if we kill forests, prairies, ecosystems en masse we call it progress.
Most of the people in the history of the world have lived a different way. We call them hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or horticulturalists. The Garden of Eden gives a picture of that way of life. Being thrown out to do agriculture was a curse, but it was the natural result of trying to be gods, refusing the gifts freely offered.
“Living in the hands of the gods” is a term invented by Daniel Quinn to describe these people. In the hands of the gods, you are part of a community that includes more that just human beings. You have a right to exist, and so does everything else. You can compete with the other beings for food and space, but you can’t wage war on them.
Humans lived well in this way for millennia. Like other top predators, they lived by culling the old and sick from the herds of other animals around them, and from gathering the surplus of plants, while carefully maintaining the well-being of the host population. Like other animals and plants, in case of drought, flood, or blizzard some of them would die. They did not expect otherwise.
In a recent example, the Menomonie of Wisconsin have profitably managed a forest for timber products since 1860. The forest is healthier now than when they began. Humans know how to do this. Our culture does not. A few of us do, as a whole we have not a clue. We know how to control, not how to participate. And this is our great sadness.
We live in a culture that does not know how to be part of the family. We are estranged. We are desperate for control, because we can’t trust. The tragedy is that, like a traumatized child grown up, we can’t see that there is kindness and love in the world. And so collectively, for survival, we become the bullies of the world, where personally we would never willingly bully anyone.
(I have a smart phone. I know it’s made unsustainably with rare earths. I know it’s made by child slaves who are poisoned by the elements in it. I know that someone invented a cell phone that was neither of these, and it’s being test marketed in Europe. And my phone is incredibly convenient. It exceeds the most extreme fantasies of the science fiction I read in the 1960’s. The science fiction didn’t usually mention slaves or sustainability. I make excuses for having the phone. My guilt helps no one.)
Deaths of people, animals, and oceans are woven into our daily life so deeply that avoiding them would be a full time job. This is pain. This is the hole in our society, the hole in our hearts, the reason lung problems and heart problems are the major killers in America. This is the hole we have to cover up in order to go on with our lives.
The pandemic is helping us with that. It gives us permission to be sad about dying, sad about the people who are taking risks, and permission to be angry at the injustice of who does and who doesn’t get help, angry at those who profit. And some of us are stuck at home, with our families or alone, with time. Time to read, time to create, and time to give to others. Mask making, mutual aid societies, free concerts and donations of all kinds – something is flowering, in the middle of stress and of death.
It may be that great changes will come, as they did after the Black Death in Europe. May they be changes of more kindness and not of more control. May we act in a way that creates more kindness.
We live this day as well as we can. With kindness for ourselves and others. Taking care of what needs to be done – make food, wash the dishes – who needs attention – our families, our selves – and letting that create our lives. Today’s actions create the self who wakes up the next morning.
Here is where we come back to the Five Remembrances. I am of the nature to grow old, to have ill health, to die. Everything and everyone around me will change and I will lose them. Only my actions are reliable. My deeds are the ground on which I can stand.
That sounds a little solitary. “My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” We might understand that our friends and children and husbands and wives are with us. We might understand that our congregation is with us. We might organize a community mutual aid society, or feel grateful or angry at the actions of the state or the nation. But mostly we don’t think of ourselves as part of a family that includes flies and ground squirrels, deer and maple trees, the Cannon River, the Great Plains, the wheat and the buckthorn and the clouds in the sky. It just doesn’t occur to us.
There have been people – through most of the history of earth, actually – who did experience themselves as part of that family. Some of the relatives were annoying and troublesome, some were kind and generous, some had to be appeased or pacified and then they would be kind or helpful.
I propose that as we take our individual and family and community actions, we understand that we are not acting alone. And I can’t tell you what action is yours. I can only observe. A whole group of people here are checking in with other members every week. A whole group of people are doing heroic work in making services happen online – nine people met yesterday for over an hour to make today happen. Kristin gave us another year so we don’t have to search for a new minister during this time. A lot of people are sewing masks and giving them away. I know someone who recovered from the virus and is going back to work on an ambulance. Doctors, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, grocery workers, shoppers are keeping things going. Farmers are growing food, and organizing to get it to people – they’re building an alternative economy that will be more trustworthy than the centralized one. And so many people are simply changing their lives in very uncomfortable ways, to not endanger people they love.
Organizations and unions are agitating to protect those workers from the risks that wouldn’t be happening if we had decent government – and state governments are stepping up to the challenge. There are quiet conversations everywhere about what to do if martial law is declared, if how to resist the outrages already happening. People are singing in the streets, having dance parties, taking care of each other, staying home to protect each other. People are offering classes and meditation and concerts online free, for donations. Water protectors and land defenders are finding creative ways to continue resisting; Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light continues to work on stopping Line 3 in northern Minnesota. People are gathering online to talk with each other; I’m hosting one of those gatherings every week, and a Zen study group. People are studying and sharing ideas: Barbara’s last blog post was about this, I’m writing about it. We do whatever we do. We’ll never be the same.
Our actions create our selves, and so do the actions of those around us, including people, plants, animals, stars… we’re all creating each other, that’s how the world works. Our deeds – all together – our deeds create the ground on which we stand, and on which our future can be built. Our deeds are building that future – all of us.
I’d like to end with a quotation from David Abram, which says this in very poetic language:
The animate earth around us is far lovelier than any heaven we can dream up. But if we wish to awaken to its richness, we’ll need to give up our detached, spectator perspective, and the illusion of control that it gives us. That is a terrifying move for most over-civilized folks today — since to renounce control means noticing that we really are vulnerable: to loss, to disease, to death. Yet also steadily vulnerable to wonder, and unexpected joy.
For all its mind-shattering beauty, this earth is hardly safe; it is filled with uncertainties, and shadows — with beings that can eat us, and ultimately will. I suppose that’s why contemporary civilization seems so terrified to drop the pretense of the view from outside, the God trick, the odd belief that we can master and manage the earth.
But we can’t master it — never have, never will. What we can do is to participate more deeply, respectfully, and creatively in the manifold life of this breathing mystery we’re a part of.
The Sunday discussion group is settling into a lovely pattern and a comfortable size. New people are still welcome, especially your friends; we won’t be doing broad publicity right now.
The reading for this week is Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” which offers deep hope about what the coronavirus could become, while not denying realistic worries. We’ll read it to each other in the group, but you’re invited to read it now as well.
Meanwhile, the Introduction to Zen group will have its last Wednesday meeting, and will decide whether to continue as a study group.
I’m considering starting online zazen, once a week, Monday morning 6 am Central Time. Let me know if you’re interested. (I sit every morning, but this would mean committing to the exact time and to setting up a Zoom room.)
The Navajo Nation is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, and has asked for prayers this weekend, Easter weekend.
They started at sunrise Saturday with fires, drumming, prayers, and songs. Please join in any way and time that works for you, and please share. I am including them in my morning chanting, have a fire going outdoors, and am inviting others to this prayer.
I wasn’t able to post their beautiful graphic, but here are words from it:
An enemy has hit the Navajo Rez, called COVID -19. Over 500 testing positive, 22 deaths, both increasing. They have established a mitigation plan, a 57 Hour CURFEW, from Friday 8 pm to Monday 5 am, April 10-13.
Our medicines are stronger than a virus. We don’t need another Trail of Tears or Long Walk.
The request is to light our Medicines, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, pipes, sweats, prayers, lite a fire, make offerings, keep fire going all weekend, sing our songs, let our drums be heard.
Pulses of Spiritual prayers sent all weekend long directed to the Navajo Nation, all day Saturday, throughout Saturday night, all day Sunday until Sunset.
Please send this on to all your contacts worldwide. We want thousands, in all languages, to pray. We are all interconnected.
I know you will do this, because of the intergenerational trauma we all know about. Please…..Please…Please!
I’d like to invite you to either or both of two Zoom groups:
Sundays at 4 pm Central Time beginning today, March 22. Details here; link to the meeting room is here: https://www.zoom.us/meeting/180323263. If you don’t already have Zoom on your computer, come early and install it.
Wednesday evenings starting 3/25, 6:30-8 pm Central Time, replacing the retreat we weren’t able to have. Details here.
I’m still learning to work with Zoom, so I’ll post the link soon, and send to you if you register. I believe it will be the same as the other one.
Both groups are offered freely. Their website pages have a donation link for those who wish.
Thank you all!
Dear Friends of Mountains and Waters Alliance:
There is a pandemic. We do not know what is coming, or how long it will last. This is just a note with a few practical thoughts.
We’ve closed down all group activities here. This leaves more time for writing, meditation, land care, energy healing – the core activities. I invite you to a few things:
Please honor the safety restrictions. It’s a pandemic, there’s no herd immunity, and the last time we had one of these (1918) a lot of people died. Though I’m not personally worried, I’m following guidelines (mostly staying home) in order to protect others. It is possible to transmit the virus before having symptoms.
If you’re local and need help of some kind, let me know. I expect to go out once a week. If you would like to come and walk in the woods or work outdoors, you’re more than welcome.
I’m very aware of relying on the internet. If it were to crash, I would lose my phone service as well.
I’ll write more later; trying to get this out now.
So alive. So warmly connected, deeply peaceful. I was a little in love with the group and especially the speakers and leaders of the ceremony this morning. The space was timeless.
It was called “Faith Action at the Capitol.” Mentioned the 227 water crossings of the planned Line 3 pipeline, a bigger replacement for the crumbling Line 3 pipeline, bigger and traveling through new places, lakes and streams and wild rice beds, through watersheds draining into Lake Superior (to all the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean) and the Mississippi (to the Gulf of Mexico). Minnesota Department of Commerce says we don’t need this, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency can still ask for more information, but Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is determined to go forward with an unneeded pipeline.
We read the watersheds, the streams and lakes, and the names of animals and plants endangered by this poison of civilization. We passed ribbons back symbolizing the streams of water. Thirteen of us read, nearly a hundred listened and prayed along with us. Sometimes we came to a place I knew, and sometimes I wept, seeing others weeping as well. When we reached the Nemadji River I just completely lost it. I had lived on that river for a year, visited it for several more, built a cabin, expected to make my home there. I wept with my whole body.
And at the close the sense of peace, the sense of warm, loving energy. I can’t find words.
There’s a video of that whole part of the ritual. It’s over an hour long, but you can listen to what parts you want. The reading of water crossings begins about twenty minutes in. Video of the whole ceremony is found on the Facebook page; scroll down to “all videos” and look for February 19.
Does prayer change anything? I assert that it does, that prayer and ceremony, including the stillness of meditation, restructure the nature of reality. Gratitude does this. Love does this. Yet I would never say to only do prayer and not do lobbying, voting, civil resistance, and tangible acts creating the new world (such as foraging, gardening, building soils, helping each other, every act of community.)
And there we are. I encourage you to watch at least some of the video. If you have 80 minutes, watching it all could be a way of participating, of spreading the ceremony across days and miles.
There’s an invitation from MNIPL for more Line 3 action:
Minnesotans – sign the Climate Emergency online petition
Look here for other action options, including submitting a comment to the MPCA (which could halt the pipeline), attending public hearings March 17 or 18, or joining the Water Protector Tour March 27-29.
Here is a comprehensive 80-minute talk on climate risks and reality, by Kritee (Kanko), a climate scientist and Zen teacher. It’s really clear. Having talked deeply with Kritee, I trust her. It’s okay to share the talk. I encourage viewing parties.
Potlucks are thriving; March 15 and April 19 are the next – at the farm, 5:30 Sunday evenings, followed by a film or speaker.
Introduction to Zen – a short weekend-retreat, March 21 and 22. Saturday morning workshop can stand alone or is followed by a weekend of meditation, work, eating together, and so forth. If you like what I’ve been offering, you might come to part or all of this to learn the roots.
If you want to tap sugar maples, help make meditation cushions, garden or forage or get involved in local prayer activism, please contact Shodo about getting onto the local email list.
Donation requests: So many groups are doing so many good things – here are two groups doing pipeline resistance, protecting earth and water, up north and here in Minnesota.
Please vote: For climate, environment, justice, human rights, please do vote in your primary or caucus.
Thank you all for being there. Especially I thank those of you who donate or give time and thoughts.
Shodo for Mountains and Waters Alliance
It may be that 2019 will be remembered as the year climate disaster became real for ordinary people in the United States. Because the news media brought us Australia burning, in a way they have not brought Asia and Africa as they burn or drown or starve. Naturally, 2020 must then be the year we take action. On climate, but also on the fascism creeping around the globe. Will we?
These questions come from Derrick Jensen, fifteen years ago. I offer them to you.
I spent too much of my life thinking I was too small to make change, being afraid of what would happen if I stood up, and every now and then had a miserable failure. Then, just once, I followed the voice in my heart that said “do this.” In 2004 I led a public sitting outside of both political conventions (Boston and New York) and walked from one to another with a group of anarchists. It was hard. I was exhausted. And I learned what it was like to follow the inner calling instead of ignoring it.
The result was that later, when I had mental images of walking along the KXL route, I was able to do it. The preparation was miserable, the walk was wonderful, miserable, and often both at once. And I was alive, so alive that I barely knew how to cope when the walk ended.
Now I’m engaged in this great, unreasonable undertaking: to heal the consciousness of my civilized world, and to form a powerful alliance with beings that I used to think of as resources. I’ve wanted to give up so often – sometimes it’s only the Advisory Council that keeps me going – but here I am. And things are beginning to turn, just a bit. In books, poems, essays, organizations, I hear so many of my own thoughts and words. The wind is blowing us all, leaves on the wind.
Once you’ve tasted this way of life – embracing the largest most pressing problem – nothing else will satisfy.
I’m working on a book, and am setting aside as many other activities as I can. Hemera Foundation gave me a small grant to support study and teaching; I’ll use it for both. At the same time, opportunities to work with other humans are exploding: Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light in support of Honor the Earth and indigenous pipeline resistance; an informal group of Zen priests concerned about climate disaster; an online discussion group about “what to do about climate”, and more. Not alone. And you are there, too.
Here are 2020 events and plans, updated from the November listing. They’ll be on the website soon. March 21-22: Introduction to Zen. April 30-May 4: 5-day sesshin. June 25-30: 5-day sesshin at Hokyoji. July 24-26 land care retreat, September 24-29: 5-day sesshin. November 30-December 7: Rohatsu sesshin. Plus monthly potlucks (sign up for email reminders), a few work projects like maple sugaring and some plantings, and who knows? Visitors (one is planning now, others welcome), and the regular practice of morning zazen, outdoor time, and daily life. Local talks are also on the website.
In January I led two retreats in Atlanta, speaking about practicing with climate change, and the first talk is on the website now.
I invite you to donate to something that could matter a lot in the world of protecting land and water. Ken Ward, one of the “valve turners” – people who physically cut off the flow of oil on certain cross-border pipelines and then wait to be arrested – will be on trial February 10-14. He will be allowed to present the “necessity defense” – the defense of breaking a law because a greater good is being served. If you follow environmental legal affairs, you know that it’s exceptional to be able to present the necessity defense. It’s a great opportunity.
They need to raise another $8-10k to cover experts’ expenses, and other trial support. “Please add a note designating the donation for Ken Ward’s legal fund.” https://climatedefenseproject.org/donate/
And they are asking for supporters in the courtroom, February 10-14, 9-5 at Skagit County Superior Court, 205 W Kincaid St, Mount Vernon, Washington 98273 See the Facebook page.
Take a few minutes each day to settle into your body, enjoy your breath, offer patience to your faults and to your difficulties. Step outdoors and say hello to a tree, a bird, a raindrop, a stone – recognizing them as fellow beings. (It’s okay if you have to pretend to recognize them. Try it.) Let them say hello to you too. If you find yourself in conversation with them, follow it. Know that we are all in this together.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
It’s the dark time of the year, just five days until winter solstice and the beginning of the sun’s return. Night skies are brilliant with stars, the snow is bright from the moon even when it’s covered with clouds. The air is crisp and cold. Sometimes the body just wants to stay indoors and be warm.
We feel this way, sometimes: just stay indoors where it’s warm. Not go out and face the hard things. And this time, after talking so much about hard political and environmental things, I want to just say – the night is beautiful and the sun will start its return soon.
We don’t know how long it will take for the return of the other sun – the return to a whole, connected, and lively life, of community, emotional safety, safety for immigrants and red and black people, for refugees and hungry people – could these come back in my lifetime? In a few generations? When they’ve been gone for most of us for thousands of years? It’s hard to imagine and hard to say; disasters don’t always bring renewal, and we seem to be looking at disaster. Still, grasslands need fire to regenerate. What about human society? (It’s a question, not an answer. I wouldn’t dare, without extensive historical study.)
Still, I assert that the sun is returning. Here are some marks:
There is this, from George Lakey in How We Win : “When a society heats up, it becomes more pliable, and that can mean bending in scary directions. Where these pliable times take us depends on the movements we can build.” That scary heating up – he finds hope.
I don’t know what will happen. I do know that life works better with action, with involvement, with meaningful work of any kind. That, we can all choose. And though the sun’s return may be subtle, we can be part of that return.
No new announcements; see November’s newsletter. No new asks; enormous gratitude to all those who have supported this work financially and in so many other ways. This month, nothing but this reflection. Love to you all.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
As I begin to write, hundreds of Extinction Rebellion protestors have been arrested around the world – over climate. United Auto Workers are in the longest strike in 50 years, against General Motors, over livelihood. Chicago teachers prepare to strike over student services. Hong Kong protests for basic freedom aren’t even news any more. Nor are family separations and deaths at the border, or floods, storms, wildfires killing people and other living beings around the globe, or record temperatures every month. It’s not news that crops are failing across the Midwest, and in gardens of people I know. Poverty, refugees, homelessness are not news, nor are countless acts of kindness and generosity.
News is a white police officer, called to do a wellness check, instead snoops around the house and then shoots through the window, killing an innocent woman playing with her nephew. News is the impeachment process, Trump’s increasingly irrational response, and his erratic, frightening foreign policy actions. Is it news that he is opening up more wilderness lands, for oil and gas exploration while gutting environmental protections? Probably not.
News is Greta Thunberg, somehow noticed by the media elevated to world leadership, chosen out of hundreds or thousands of youth activists. (Here are a few current names and stories; here is some history, including details on the 2017 Juliana case still pending, and mention of a 1990’s case won by youth in the Philippines. I encourage you to read both.
I’m giving too much attention to the news these days. Doing that makes me feel small and powerless, even while some of it is encouraging. Reading or watching commentary by people who agree with me isn’t fruitful either; I suppose tI do it to feel less alone and less powerless.
What I am doing, a little more, is going outdoors and walking among the trees, listening to birds, watching squirrels, seeing faces in the rocks, wetting my feet in the creeks. Last week I went down to the creek and, for the first time in three years, actually spent time in the area I once was developing as a quiet outdoor space. Until a storm threw trees across it and diverted a rivulet through the middle of the open space. Last fall’s tornado threw a few more trees down. Now again I found nourishment there.
In September a prayer gathering was organized by Interfaith Power and Light, at the Mississippi Headwaters (Itasca State Park). I went to offer something Buddhist – the chant Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting life. Here we are.
Last weekend I went to my teacher’s temple, gave a talk, talked with old friends, and did Zen practice with my old community. I came back with the thought that I need more zazen time. Two hours in the morning is more than twice as much as one hour. It’s time to settle down, become more quiet. And more time with the spirits of the land. I may do fewer events next year, even though the sense of urgency is stronger than ever.
When the world is falling apart – as is our shared human world, most of us – if we avoid the temptation of denial, if we choose to meet what is from the understanding of our place in the universe, our belonging to the family of life – well, that is my current question, and there are just inklings of how to move forward. One of these is to stay grounded, literally close to the earth. Another is that our human connections actually be human, not prescribed, rigid, machine-like, perfect, objectified, dead. Thus we are nourished; our decisions can be based on that awareness of belonging rather than on fear and isolation, or the need to control. That’s not even an outline; I’m working on it.
The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing – contemplations by an anthropologist that uproot many of my habitual thoughts about human interactions, economics, and the like.
Why Civil Resistance Works, by Erika Chenoweth – a convincing study, rather academic, by someone who really expected to find that violent resistance was more effective. Not just encouraging, but instructive in the how of activism.
If Women Rose Rooted: the journey to authenticity and belonging, by Sharon Blackie – not started yet, but looks enticing.
The events listing on the front page is easier to read than ever. But I’ll mention the first few:
Sunday October 20, 2-5 pm sitting meditation (walking and outdoor options) at the farm
Sunday October 20, 5:30-8:30 potluck. RSVP is quite important. We’ll listen to a talk by Sharon Blackie.
October 26-27, Introduction to Zen retreat (beginning with a short workshop on Saturday morning). This might be cancelled; I’d like at least four people. If interested contact me soon.
Leaves are starting to turn, and I turned on the heat for the first time this morning. It’s fall. A little late, but every extra warm day is another day to go outside, sweaters or no. I want to buy a splitting axe, a really good one from Lehman’s; someone suggested a GoFundMe for the $200. Thinking about it. What does heating with wood and splitting it myself have to do with the well-being of the world, the alliance with plants and animals and all beings? Only a matter of getting closer to the earth.
Love to you all,
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.