- The Farm
- The Alliance
Years ago, a teacher at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, said to me “We each have to find our own way.” There, when entering monastic practice for the first time, we would first sit in silence for five days. This was called “clarifying the mind.” Now, seeing more clearly, I recognize that this means dropping ideas and letting the Great Way find us.
Some things are now clear enough that I can share them with you. It seems like a direction change, but it’s not.
The most important thing that I am doing is my practice, also known as my work. At this time that means to carry on the combination of zazen (sitting meditation: just sitting with the whole universe as we all create each other) and intimate relationship with all beings of the earth. Those are actually the same, but one looks like sitting still and the other like walking outdoors, making ceremony and offerings, visiting sacred places.
To make space for this, I am dropping some activities. Most of them involve efforts to get people to join me in my work. I’m going to the “attraction rather than promotion” model.
Here are two talks that I liked, from 2016.
“The whole world is the true human body.”
“A single hand held out freely.”
Loss has my attention today. I was out walking the land with a dear friend that has never been here before. I came back to learn that the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by two votes. If both Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin had voted “no”, we would be looking toward a less scary future.
Even then, it’s scary. The Amazon rainforest is no longer a carbon sink. https://e360.yale.edu/digest/study-finds-tropical-forests-are-no-longer-carbon-sinks. The Arctic is melting – https://physicsworld.com/a/arctic-thaw-imperils-climate-goals/. And hate, fear, partisanship rule the day in more countries than our own. 2400 children are now in that immigrant camp in Texas, and families are not being reunited. Within five or ten years we likely face a world far different from even the one we know now – let along the green and abundant world of my childhood.
My past week has mostly been about the tornado. My house was close to the path of the strongest of several tornadoes that came through Rice County. It missed the house and took down dozens of trees. I’m still shocked when I look at the fallen and twisted trees. But also now, with much clearing done, I’m looking forward to what might be possible. I have little trees looking for homes – they will tell me where to plant them.
I’d been planning for the land care retreat, just three weeks away, planning to work with some of Martín Prechtel’s teachings. I’d thought of making a sacred compost pile; Martín talks about composting as honoring death and decay. Now it’s more likely that we’ll work with wildness, making an offering to the wild beings (deer, gophers, quackgrass) that threaten the orchard, as we also nurture the trees and spaces that support them. The orchard is weak because of neglect, not the storm; its weakness is influenced by conventional agriculture, erratic weather (climate change), and all the rest – and it longs for human attention too.
The grief of that neglect, and the grief of climate change, of tornado losses, of everyone we’ve loved who has died, of creeping fascism in politics here and in so much of the world – we’ll allow our grief to nourish the orchard as we do weeding, mulching, planting, cutting. And wildness will be welcome in this time. Because the gardens will not be strong unless the wilderness is stronger, and our habit of trying to control it leads to an inevitable end. We’ll allow the grief of lost trees and loss of control, and move toward our natural place in the family of living beings. Which means receiving gifts and giving them, in the spirit of offering, giving back to the earth which gives us our lives.
I’ve been promising to write about my summer’s retreat, but that will wait for the moment. Life is moving, alive, growing. I will write about that later, and also about the conference two weeks ago that was so exciting.
I have one simple request, though. During a solo in the wilderness, I made a vow to support the pine trees of the world – trees that are being attacked by pine bark beetles and blister rust, that are going up in flames. The beetles attach when the trees are stressed by drought or fire. Their attacks make the trees more susceptible to wildfire, which both heats directly and adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. My vow was to strengthen the trees so they will not burn. At one moment, I could sense that the trees had already accomplished this; at another I knew they needed our help.
Please support your local pine trees. I can’t tell you how. Currently I’m offering chanting and prayers and healing energy; do whatever comes to you.
I’m joining a local group working on stopping Line 3, the tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota – defending our shared home and confronting the state government that I know best. While my strongest draw is toward the plants and earth, I am compelled to join with other human beings as well.
I recommend this article, which as I was reading about the Kavanaugh hearing reminded me of balance.
Howard Zinn in 2005: https://progressive.org/op-eds/howard-zinn-despair-supreme-court/.
“Our culture – the media, the educational system – tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.”
Bless you all. I hope you’re voting, this year of all years – please make sure you’re registered. Please love your humans and your earth-beings, and please be well and happy.
I spent a month on retreat; here are notes from the first few days. Below is simple stuff including event updates and encouragement to subscribe.
You should have already received notice on these events. If you haven’t, please check whether you are subscribed to updates. Go to home and scroll down. You might try checking all the boxes, then removing the ones that aren’t of interest.
October 7, Beth Goldring at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center
October 14, Shodo speaks at Clouds in Water Zen Center
October 26-28, Land Care Retreat (fee, registration required)
Nov 30-Dec 8, Rohatsu sesshin (fee, registration required)
Work days on the farm– dates TBA
Probably Oct 20 or 21, and one day in November. These days are a chance to enjoy the outdoors and help with plants and land. I’m looking for some replies before setting dates. We provide food and snacks, and sometimes people go home with plants. If you tell me you’re interested, you can influence the schedule.
You might also earn a scholarship to a retreat – ask about this.
Potluck with extras – October 21, 5-8 pm – also third Sunday every month
After dinner we’ll either watch a short documentary or listen to a Dharma talk. Decision will be made together with those who RSVP first.
Long distance events in 2019:
January 5, Atlanta, all-day retreat at Red Clay Sangha, January 6, Dharma talk at Red Clay.
January 12 or 13, Atlanta, talk or retreat at Midtown Atlanta Zen.
October 11-13, Bloomington, IN, Women’s Retreat at Sanshin Zen Community.
Right Now: Easy support request:
You can raise $3 for us if you click this button by September 16. I wrote about this before – please do it! A single plane ticket probably gives us at least $5. Leave Amazon, support smaller merchants while supporting us. The Donation page has more information.
It’s good to be home. The sun is setting earlier. A new housemate will be doing some much-needed carpentry; I’ve sanded and oiled the deck and started to weed the garden. Raspberries are still coming. If people come for the work day, we can transplant raspberries to a better location (more accessible, less tangled). At the Land Care Retreat, I expect to offer some of the work from Martin Prechtel’s book, as well as my own explorations and Zen understandings.
And do look at the journal entry.
Love and respect,
Mountains and Waters Alliance has a new website! Please take a look around – it is now much easier to find the pictures, the people, the events – and you can subscribe to everything or just to your particular interests.
I’ll be adding more information in the next weeks and months – starting with stories and thoughts from my recent month-long retreat. Eventually, the resource page will be a referral library with web links, book recommendations, and more.
October 7, 9:30 am, in Northfield: My friend Beth Goldring gives the Dharma talk at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center, 313 ½ S Division Street, Northfield, MN. Beth is retired after founding Brahmavihara Cambodia, which for many years provided chaplaincy services to AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is a dharma heir of Gil Fronsdale, a lifelong activist, and one of my mentors.
October 14, 9 am, in St. Paul. I give the Dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, 445 Farrington Street, St. Paul. Meditation starts at 9 am, talk at 10:30.
October 26-28: Land Care Retreat: Spiritual Practice with the Natural World. At the farm.
November 30-December 8: Rohatsu sesshin, at the farm. (Simplified Zen meditation retreat, honoring when Buddha sat for 7 days and attained enlightenment.
We are with iGive instead of Amazon Smile – a higher donation and you are supporting a wide and healthy marketplace instead of a monopoly. Right now, you can send us $3 just by signing up with them. They put a button on your desktop, and you just do your shopping as always. Major airlines are included, which means that your travel can help us.
We won’t be using the blog any more – everything will be here. I’m excited about this site. Hope it serves you well.
Last week there was an onslaught of events that lead to feeling hopeless. I wrote a list, didn’t want to start with it, then knew it was necessary. Skip it if you need.
I don’t have an answer. So here is what I’m doing, day by day.
Imagine living in a culture in which there was enough for everyone. Enough safety. Enough food, of good quality. Enough access to the natural world. Enough love.
On Saturday I went into the streets about immigration, with a couple hundred people in Northfield. Not liking protests, I thought that sometimes you just have to visibly say no – and that this is such a time. I’m encouraged by the tenor of that conversation – people recognized there’s something bigger here – and by the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who showed up in the street. If Trump was testing the waters to see how far he could go, he didn’t get an “all clear.”
I’m encouraged by some other things too:
Martin Prechtel, in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive. His teacher, at dying, sent him to the United States to keep the sacred seeds alive. Finally he writes: “For ever after that, the seeds I was trying to keep viable were no longer “my” seeds of the Seeds of Tzutujil spirituality, but the seeds that every citizen of the Earth has somewhere tucked away inside themselves, or outside in their lives, or somewhere in the ground, or lurking around the family baggage, or hidden in their bodies. In dreams or inexplicable proclivities, but always somewhere they never look or know anything about. These seeds were the seeds of that very precious thing we all have that contains embryonic caches of possible understandings of how to live ritually and intactly with an indigenous mind, seeds that have been bequeathed to us all from our own more intactly earth-rooted ancestral origins from millennia previous.
… But, how can we find our seeds if they are hidden in a place we know nothing about, a place we cannot see or touch without the indigenous ancestral mind? The truth is, the seeds do not need to be found because they are already found. We are the ones who need to be found, for the seeds are wherever we go….We have been adrift for four thousand years, floating on people-centered rafts of provisional civilizations that have convinced themselves they are the real thing and the cutting edge of human evolution… the spirits…are effortlessly coursing right along with us….trying their best to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves…while we drift along figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.”
“figuring that the anxiety of civilizations’ never-ending feeling of emergency is normal.” If that makes no sense to you – if the whole quotation makes no sense – you are normal in this culture. But if it calls to you, whether clearly or faintly, that is the action of the spirits trying “to get our attention and tow us home to our real selves.”
It is our real selves that will find a way. Please listen deeply within for your real self. And please listen outside as well, to the you that is in other people, in lands, in animals, in plants – everything around you is also your Self.
We live in difficult times. It is harder to find the joy in life – and always more essential.
Still, life goes on. The plants don’t stop. I’m putting out an invitation for Saturday morning, July 7, 9-12 at the farm:
Temperature will be 70-77 degrees and sunny. RSVP for address, directions, and so I can expect you. Shodo.firstname.lastname@example.org. (“Maybe” is also helpful information.) Between Faribault and Northfield, MN.
The essential nature of life is offering. Some people, and some cultures, still know this. Modern Americans, not so much.
One of the first things that caught my attention in Zen practice was a meal chant which began, “Innumerable labors have brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us,” continued with “This food is for the Three Treasures”, for the four benefactors, and for all beings in the six worlds, and ended with “We eat this food with everyone. We eat to end all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings, and to accomplish the Buddha Way.”
I didn’t know anything about offering, but that chant included everything. And it told me I was in the right place, in a holy place, home. (The translation was changed decades ago, but these are the words that opened my heart.)
Martin Prechtel’s 2012 book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The parallel lives of people as plants: keeping the seeds alive takes us into a world where the whole people know that way of offering, of responding to every single thing, every gift from the gods. He describes the offerings that must be made for something so simple as making a knife – the ore from the earth is just a beginning.
The American way of life sees everything around us as resources to be used for our own benefit. Martin refers to this way as hollow, stealing, empty, destructive – and observes that such a life results in destruction.
I wrote a little more here. And if you are nearby (southern Minnesota), I invite you to two occasions to study and practice the way of offering.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, SUMMER SOLSTICE GATHERING
This happens in three parts; you may come to one or all, and friends are welcome. But please let me know…our address is 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault, MN, and when you arrive you come to the house that looks like a barn (parking on the left).
WEDNESDAY EVENING, JUNE 20, “ZEN AS RELIGION”
This concludes the “Introduction to Zen” series, with a look at the chants and ceremonies, and a discussion of the classic question “Is Zen a religion? A philosophy? Or what?” (I promise there will not be an answer to the question.) We’ll particularly look at all of these things as the Zen style of making offerings.
And it concludes the Wednesday evening sittings. See below under Zen News.
We had a week-long volunteer, Celeste Pinheiro, who knows gardening and jumped right in. Thus we
have some photos of how the garden looks afterward. She’s also an artist, and started work on a logo for us.
Last week my housemate TR asked if I had some work, on behalf of a college student friend. Well, Harry Edstrom came Wednesday afternoon and kept coming back through Saturday. On Friday Cassidy Carlisle came with him, and on Saturday Essam Elkorgle joined them.
So we have lots of things planted, big areas mulched, strawberries moved, trees in protective cages, and three tiny Korean nut pines safely in the ground. We also have another guest room! Funny how that happened: it was raining on Friday, so I asked Harry and Cassidy to do a very small painting job in the guest room. They liked it. It kept raining. I really, really wanted to get that place cleaned up. So they kept painting, I kept moving furniture so they could keep painting, and we wound up turning the junk room into a very nice space (photos!). The next day, with Essam, we moved furniture to turn it into a bedroom. Today Laurel Carrington (Buddhist center friend) promised to bring a real bed! I know some visitors will be very happy.
The most fun thing, unless it was transforming the basement, was working with the hand-powered two-person saw. Here’s a picture of Cassidy and Harry cutting wood with it.
For a few years I’ve hosted a Zen group in Northfield, meeting two or three times a month, while carrying on a daily practice here at the farm (morning sitting and chanting, monthly retreats) and sometimes having Zen-practice visitors.
The Wednesday night group will end with the June 20 discussion. I’m hoping that people who want some form of Zen practice will contact me, and we’ll talk about what we want to do. Northfield has a very solid Buddhist presence, with sittings 6 days a week and monthly speakers, so nobody will be left hanging.
With the new guest room, the option of coming for retreats or longer practice opportunities is much improved. We also have a tent space in the nearby pines, created by Celeste.
We’re working on a better website, date some time this summer.
In mid-July I begin travels to visit some people, some of the mountains/waters members of the Alliance, and to attend a 2-week retreat at the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. The first week will be just meditation together in the mountains, with a solo time outdoors; the second half will include conversation with other serious environmental activists and meditators. I’m really looking forward to this.
I continue to offer psychotherapy services in Minneapolis, which is a lovely way to make a living and be able to support the Alliance. I am gradually shifting this work to an office in Northfield, which will be more convenient.
And that is all for now. Please be well and happy in every way.
We look forward to a summer solstice celebration, Sunday June 17, in the spirit of gratitude for the gifts of the earth and making an offering in return. More information.
You’re invited to a gardening day Saturday, June 2, in the spirit of offering, of loving the land, of befriending our plant and earth neighbors – we’ll be planting vegetables, mulching, moving some berry plants. You may take home some strawberry or raspberry plants. Lunch is provided if you RSVP. Come any time 10-5!
Journal: I’ve been thinking about chanting, what it is, what it means, and our whole relationship to the earth and beings around us. Read here.
News: This is brief; the more interesting things have gone to Journal and Study Group. But at the end of April I taught in Columbus, Ohio. There was a workshop on facing the coming challenges, and a day-long sitting focusing on basic Zen teachings. I look forward to returning. I spent five days studying with my teacher and two others, and came away feeling much nourished.
I’m continuing to work as a psychotherapist to support this work; now I see clients in Northfield and by “teletherapy.”
A week-long visitor, Celeste Pinhiero, is helping with the garden, camping in the pines, and bringing a wonderful energy, more land-based than I have ever been – and bringing in new flowers, tidying, sitting with me in the mornings. Susan Schoenberg visited for a day and hopes to return. T.R. McKenzie still lives here, works full time but we manage occasional fruitful conversations.
Plans for the summer include a month-long journey, centered around a two-week meditation and activism retreat in Colorado. Plus more time with the land, and continuing the deeper work of studying what it is I have to offer. Writing will not be happening so fast.
There are still spaces for short visits for practice, work, and Dharma conversation.
Please keep this work in your heart. And write if you wish.
Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: April 7, 2018
Please see new thoughts at “Journal”, which includes ramblings, responses to things in the news, links, and miscellaneous – unedited.
Neither will have notifications at this time. At the moment there are new writings in Journal.
A Thousand True Fans
This is an ask for money. It’s hard for me to do, but if I don’t ask you will never know.
The article was written for artists, who are famous for not having enough money. It proposed that rather than trying to make it big, an artist could survive with 1000 true fans – people who went to every concert or bought everything you produced. The idea was that such fans spend about one day’s income per year on your work. If that amount is $100, you have an excellent income.
My adaptation of it is like this: Instead of chasing foundation grants, which takes a lot of time and produces usually nothing, I’ve chosen to earn a living – which takes a lot of time and produces enough to live but not enough to move forward with the Alliance.
I’m inviting you to offer support to the Alliance, at whatever level would feel good to you. You can donate yearly, monthly, even daily. You can donate $5, $10, $100, $1000, any amount. Fees are small. There are over 200 subscribers to this blog; I don’t know many of you or even why you’re here. But if 20 people chose to donate one day’s income per year, and you averaged $36,500 income, I would have $2000, which would cover Internet fees, brochure printing, the accountant, and some more. If 200 people donated $20 per year, I would have $4000 and could actually move forward slowly. 200x$50 and I can go back to full time Alliance work – or we can pay our debts or something.
There are lots of other kinds of support (ask me, especially if you are good at internet stuff) but this is for people are short on time – perhaps for all those of you who send something every time I ask – would you consider making a commitment? Go here for more information or to make that donation. Here are some ways we would like to spend it:
Internet access, phone use, travel for meetings/teaching/study, printing brochures.
Growing food sustainably, restoring the land
Turning the farm into a gathering place; making it a place for residential practice
Repaying loans, beginning with the solar panel loan, then the loans from people, last loans from me.
So that’s it. I’m asking you for financial help if it works for you. The energy is growing, and I’m doing my best to give it what space I can.
Meanwhile at the farm – we have maple syrup and box elder syrup (this is less time-extravagant if we cook it inside on the propane stove; we are making vinegar from apples, pears, strawberries, pineapples, and pretty much anything that comes by, and drinking it for health and taste. “We” means me and T.R., a friend who is staying for several months. A different “we” is me and Perry, doing nursery plant stuff because he knows how to grow and also to sell. We’ll have more plants and hopefully some income. I’m trying to save my time for the deeper spiritual work, but the land tempts. We’re below freezing and snow-covered at the moment. Like lots of places. Climate change!
I hope you are all well.
April 15 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
April 21 FARM 12-3 grafting workshop with Sarah Claasen, registration required, fee, two spots left.
April 21 FARM all day work day (might go to Earth Day celebrations late afternoon, might keep grafting until dark)
April 18 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen “What’s it good for?” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
27-29 ZEN and MWA – Shodo is teaching in Columbus, OH. Friday evening workshop, Saturday morning sitting and discussion, Sunday all-day sitting with 2 pm talk. For more information contact Don Brewer.
May 2 ZEN no gathering
May 1-5: studying with my teacher in Bloomington, Indiana.
May 16 ZEN 6:10 Intro to Zen – “Spiritual community” – Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.
May 18 FARM all day work day
May 19 MWA potluck day including work 2-4, ritual 5-6, potluck supper and gathering
May 25-28 MWA Land Care Retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
Silent retreats are held almost monthly. If you would like to come to one of these, please contact Shodo directly. An Intro to Zen retreat will be arranged when there are a few requests.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
October 26-28: Land care retreat – same as May
For Zen and farm events, see here.
We’ll begin with a few event announcements, then continue with guidance – this time, an introductory essay.
Retreats in Minnesota:
May 25-28: Land care retreat – includes meditation, work as practice, dharma talks and discussions, community building.
October 26-28: Land care retreat.
To be determined: Intro to Zen retreat – a full day at the farm, or a half day in Northfield.
Silent retreats are on the calendar, not shown here.
Travel & Teaching:
April 27-29: Teaching in Columbus, Ohio.
Midsummer: I will be traveling to Colorado and could arrange to be available in Colorado, northern New Mexico, and points along the way from Minnesota.
Late September: I will be in upstate New York and could arrange to be available.
For farm events including workshops, volunteer days, and potlucks, please see the calendar.
For local Zen teaching schedule, please see the same calendar.
We’ll begin with a few words on what Buddhist practice means, as a foundation for more later.
For me, Buddhist practice is about living as part of the earth, fully sustained and embraced in joy.
Usually we think of Buddhism as a philosophy – intellectual, disembodied – or a religion. “Religion” might actually fit, if we understand it correctly. It’s based on Latin words meaning “respect for the sacred” or “reconnecting with the gods,” and until the 1500’s religion was not separate from secular life – even in Europe.
Buddhism calls us back to the ancient or indigenous way of relating to the world and to the sacred. It asks us to let go of these ways of life and thought that have been trained into us from birth: humans as special, nature as resource, greed and hate as normal. In Buddhism, greed, hate, and the sense of separation are called the Three Poisons. They’re not natural at all, but it’s difficult to become free of them because of long training and the incessant harping of industrial civilization.
The way Life actually works is that each one of us is created by everything around us, past and present, and we in turn give life to everything else, present and future. We are a speck on the wave of Life, never lonely while in a way profoundly alone.
Knowing this is freedom. We can drop our burdens, whether those burdens are saving the planet or making a successful career. Life takes care of itself. Our job as individuals is to respond to the movement of Life in and around us. This requires dropping ingrained beliefs, which is why Buddhist practice can be arduous: before we can respond to Life we must be able to see/hear/feel it. Fortunately, even a glimpse is enlivening and energizing, and glimpses are common.
This way is joyful. Its hope is not the hope that something will change, but hope that embraces things as they are, joins with them enthusiastically, and responds in kind, with gratitude, creating resiliency without expectation.
This way is open to anyone who wants it.
We live in difficult times. Words fail. 2018 has seen seven significant school shootings in 55 days. For the moment, I am chanting on behalf of Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Alfonso Calderon, Sara Chadwick, founders of the Never Again movement. If you pray in any way, I invite you to join me in supporting these young leaders as they call us to take our children’s lives seriously.
We need to look deeply into the nature of our society. Why are we the only country on earth with this problem of mass shootings including children? It has something to do with our attitude toward guns, yet there’s more: 50 or 150 years ago guns were ordinary and mass shootings were unthinkable.
I’m looking at two long essays that describe how we got here. The first is a 2001 interview with Martin Prechtel, offering a completely different way of relating to the world. The second is notes on the concept of wetiko, described in Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals, and elaborated though not named in Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise. Both point to a profound dysfunction in society, and Prechtel makes it clear how this leads to destroying our own selves.
My question, and the business of the Alliance, is how we change this in ourselves and in the broader culture. For our own survival, it needs to change. I’m not yet ready to write, but will. Meanwhile, praying for the leaders, and doing my best to carry out the work that has called me, which faces and addresses the nature of our shared mind. Yes, it’s about climate change. It’s also about who we are.
Looking for those who are called to this same work
Everything I want to say is on this website page. Very briefly, if you feel like this work is your work, join this community for support in action, by becoming a member. If you would like to offer financial support there’s a discussion at the bottom of the page, and a link for single or repeat donations of any size.
We’re quitting email lists in favor of blog posts. If you’re not already signed up, please go to the lower right corner of the page and “follow.” (If you can’t find it, email me and I’ll set you up.)
The blog will be more active, probably weekly. It will include events, essays, and teaching – guidance in ways to participate in this work. I’m gradually adding more information in other pages, and will announce when a new page is ready. Hoping to create a sort of library.
The 2018 schedule of events is coming soon, including farm retreats, Zen sesshins, potlucks and workdays – if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come. If you’d like to spend time at the farm, please contact me. (A few items: next potluck is Sunday March 19, honoring the spring equinox; Intro to Zen class in Northfield, third Wednesdays at 6:10 pm through June; orchard grafting workshop Saturday morning April 14.)
And personal notes: we’re having winter storms, my car is snowed in, the house is comfortable, a second resident is in a try-out period, and my psychotherapy practice is going well.
Warmly and with thanks,
Yesterday morning I was moved to offer prayers for calming the wildfires. What took me so long, I don’t know. My attention was on California and South Dakota, but I tried to include everywhere – and today learned about the New Mexico blaze. And I kept thinking of “the fires of war” raging alongside of physical fires. Seeing too many pictures from Gaza. So this morning I offered prayers for “peace with dignity for all.”
What do I mean by prayer? Well, nearly every morning I sit in meditation and follow it with chanting; the chanting is dedicated for the benefit of all beings and a whole list of specifics. I’ve written about that before. After that, I do an energy healing practice adapted from David Lasocki’s work:
Mentally invoke a powerful healing vortex. Strengthen and heal myself, then name a topic. What I did today was this:
Wrote: “Peace with dignity for all.” Underlined it and made a big circle. In the circle wrote supporting factors, as they were given to me. This was the list:
Then, mentally, I strengthened each one on the list, and their relationships with each other in twos, threes, and so forth. Continued until intuition said finished.
I started writing this letter at the full moon of December, 2017. The moon was brilliant. Since then, sun and moon together have been sliding gently toward the dark. Except for the quietness, it feels like a match for the state of the world: colder, harder, as the actions of “our” government instigate fear and disgust while relentlessly removing human rights and waging war on the natural world including many humans. I’m personally privileged and not much a target in this war, yet. Still, a part of me thinks my primary safety is in the land, the orchard, and the seeds – and in people. Not in laws, elections, governments, and the like, though I dare not ignore them. None of which means I assume I will survive when/if things get hard.
Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael, wrote about two kinds of peoples. One knows the difference between good and evil. The other lives in the hands of the gods. I wish to be one of the latter, but am not. I recall Einstein’s question: “Is the world a friendly place, or not?” My childhood answer was “the natural world yes, humans not” is still strong in me, even in my rational adult mind.
Yes, there have been terrible natural disasters this year, and many we haven’t even noticed. Puerto Rico is still too much without safe water and electricity, and damages to nearby islands are invisible to us in the U.S. Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, droughts, starvation, refugees – only the human response is visible. The last round of wildfires started after I first wrote, and they’re getting attention. Meanwhile the Oval Office provides a circus complete with death-defying acts, while Congress quietly removes civil rights and transfers money from poor to rich. It doesn’t look good.
Except for points of light here and there, acts of kindness, bursts of creativity. And except for a growing resistance to imperialism, to colonization, to oligarchy, to empire – most recently in the #metoo upwelling, but also Black Lives Matter, the indigenous-led pipeline resistance, and more. Here and there court decisions favor people and land: An Oregon judge allowed Our Children’s Trust to sue the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” about environmental harm. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/; a Minnesota court allowed the “necessity defense” for some peaceful water protectors https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/10/17/victory-valve-turners-judge-allows-necessity-defense-climate-trial; finally a court sentenced a police officer to prison for shooting an unarmed black man in the back during a routine traffic stop. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html
More people are speaking in defense of the future, and a little support is showing in low and middle levels of government. There are elections next year and some dream of change. The future is not set.
Mountains and Waters Alliance in 2017
Here at Mountains and Waters Alliance, at Mountains and Waters Farm, we’re seeking to face this situation wholeheartedly and fearlessly. Our premise is that humans are not the only conscious beings, nor are we the only power. We are not alone in our wish to protect the living earth, in our intention to clean up our mess, our will for life to flourish. But as the ones who have done the damage, we need to abandon the colonial mindset and join with the other beings of the earth.
Our will is to listen to those other beings, to become their allies, and together to protect all of us. The whole thing began for me in 2015 when I walked the hillside here asking earth, trees, shrubs, and waters to protect this place from development – and felt their response. In 2016 flowers, trees, and mountains spoke to me during a retreat, and they have not stopped. In summer 2017 an ancient carving on an old hill said to me, “We’ve got it covered. We don’t need your help.” It turned my world upside down. I went home to lie in bed sick for a month, wondering what was left for me, this person, and all of us, to do.
Donations: Things require money. Right now, Mountains and Waters Alliance is a guest at Shodo’s home. It pays for Internet, paid the bulk of the solar panels, and not much else unless there’s travel to do for teaching or learning. To be more active will involve more money.
And what can we offer in appreciation? The most important thing is to be a part of this work for the benefit of all beings. Some additional things would include being part of creating the farm as a sanctuary for many, a residence for some; making this your spiritual home; - creating a counterpart wherever you are, in community together. Last, we can create an online community where we encourage each other, foster creativity, share ideas, possibly have world-linking ceremonies and events, and relate to other communities of similar heart.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this work in the past – the Sakyadhita trip, the solar panels, and everyone who just sent or handed a check without even being asked. This inspires. As it inspires to have partners, allies in the work, mentors, supporters of all kinds.
May you be at ease, joyful and at peace.
May you be safe physically and mentally.
May you be protected from natural disaster, war, epidemic, and hunger. May you have work that gives meaning. May you love and be loved. May you be unafraid.
May you find yourself completely at home in this world, with our great and wide family of conscious beings.
With deep respect and love,
It’s mid-summer. We started strong, selling extra strawberry plants and a few raspberry starts, planting a garden, putting in some mushroom patches. John Hatch brought a barrel of biochar and a pint of wood vinegar, with instructions, and I used some of each. I set up a watering system, to water plants every day, and John came out and watered them and the house plants. Perry Post, who has dreams for this land, did a lot of work on the things mentioned above, then got busy at home. I went away to the conference – in midsummer: what kind of farmer does that? When I came back the critters had eaten most of the plants I’d started near the house, and reed canary grass was stronger than anything.
Fast forward: some watering, some weeding. Few tomatoes (too close to the box elder, maybe?), many black raspberries, and some red and yellow ones. The strawberries are starting their second round. There are more vegetables near the house than I thought. I’m trimming back the raspberries. AND…..
DEER FENCE TIME. Of all the essential things to do, I picked the deer fence because the deer really like to eat our
little trees. Copying the one built by Peter and Keith, my permaculture teachers. I spent an afternoon with Nick, experimenting and planning. Then two days with students from the Heart of the Heartland program – they spent six weeks learning about small farms, having workshops and working on farms. They’re in the photo, and they were really a lot of fun. (On the rainy day they also cleaned my barn/garage, which desperately needed it.
DEER FENCE SATURDAY AUGUST 5. We have a half day, 1-5, to continue building the deer fence. It would be really wonderful to finish it – many hands and all that.
I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.
Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.
Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.
Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.
Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.
So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.
Requests and practical things
Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.
Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.
A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.
Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.
Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.
Farming and volunteering.
These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.
June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.
July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.
July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.
August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?
Sept 9-10 same as August.
Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.
Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.
How it works:
The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
Retreats and teaching activities
June: No retreats because I’m traveling.
July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.
August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.
September: retreat at the farm September 16-20
October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.
November-December: to be arranged.
June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).
June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.
Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.
January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.
I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.
As the world changes, as despair threatens, the vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is being deeply tested and clarified.
Climate change becomes increasingly obvious; violence, wars, and the war on the environment continue to escalate, and the incoming government is not a cause for encouragement. Refugees, wars, refusal of refugees, pictures of hurt and hungry children – these are our daily news. The human capacity to cause suffering is unavoidable. The arctic is sixty degrees above normal now; the summer saw unprecedented wildfires and droughts, and I was grateful to be in a place where climate change meant only fierce storms, fallen trees, raging rivers and floods, and ruined crops. The conflict between corporate greed and a culture based in the earth is playing itself out at Standing Rock, and still unfinished. In a small way I participated in that, first organizing prayer vigil support at home, then spending five days at the Standing Rock camps, joining in prayers and also sitting with other Buddhists. I expect to return when needed, and I do expect we will be needed again.
The plan of offering an example of community based in practice with the earth seems like it belongs to a gentler time, with slower change. The other side of the vision – allying with trees, mountains, and forces larger than human – becomes essential, and that is where most of my time has gone this year. In July, a wilderness retreat with David Loy and Johann Robinson led to profoundly deepened understanding of communicating and allying with the nonhumans – especially mountains and alpine flowers. My following visit to the Black Hills was more of the same, and forging a conscious alliance. This is the work difficult to discuss, that gives Mountains and Waters Alliance its name. If there is any hope in this time, it lies in giving up the illusion that humans are separate, better, or in control, and in casting our lot with all sentient beings.
A brief report on activities:
The primary work has been learning and unlearning. Pulling out invasive plants, I see the mind of war inside myself. I’ve apprenticed myself to the land, to learn in body that which I’m called to teach about becoming part of the family of life. I seek another mind – parental mind or collegial mind – in my relationship with these difficult plants. In this, the land becomes a learning laboratory. This is what I intend to teach to others, but at this time I can only express it through Zen language.
In addition to this learning, daily sitting and retreats at the land, and the wilderness retreat mentioned above, I participated in a Bearing Witness retreat this fall with local Dakota leaders. My December retreat time went to Standing Rock, and was followed by lying in bed waiting for body and heart-mind to recover. It’s been a time of working underground, enriching the soil to be fruitful later. That deep work is still in process, changing me into someone who will be actually able to offer it fully.
On the farm, we’ve protected the orchard from deer and rodents, tended and harvested berries, continued woodland restoration, and repaired storm damage. The farm house now has wood heat and cooking, solar panels, additional space, and a year’s supply of firewood. The Advisory Council meets monthly, volunteers and other supporters have helped with many projects. Office organizing and accounting is improved, and appliction for tax status is on the to-do list. I’m looking for farmers to lease part of the land, and there are a couple of conversations in process.
I’ve taught and led retreats at the farm, had guest teachers, welcomed volunteers, and networked with other farmers as well as activists and Buddhists. I’ve also taught at Buddhist and other groups, and at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. The sitting and study group in nearby Northfield has doubled in size. My essay “Right Action: The world is my body” was published in The Eightfold Path (ed. Jikyo Wolfer, Temple Ground Press 2016) And as mentioned, I’ve been involved in peaceful activism on environmental and indigenous issues.
I think a time will come when this farm is needed as a place of refuge and sanctuary. This, in addition to being a source of deep nourishment for the inner work, and a place for teaching, is a reason to keep it and cultivate it in spite of the expense.
The most important work has been nearly invisible. Thus I haven’t asked for money. Yet $1400 has come in unsolicited, much appreciated. For those who want to be quiet partners in this work, you are welcome to support it here. If you want to join in this practice, whether here, at your home or anywhere, please contact me.
Much warmth to you, as the dark of the year turns toward light again.
Love, Shodo – for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Here are two of the many writings that sustain me these days of difficulty. My own voice is still.
The Descent, by Thanissara. https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-descent/
and this, from 1968:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
Our work is to heal the mind of separation, the cause of our time’s unthinkable violence, and to ally with forces of nature to protect and restore the wholeness of life. Releasing human arrogance, with love and beyond conventional wisdom, we seek and follow guidance from those forces: land care, growing food, teaching, writing, retreats, and whatever is required. This is our intervention on climate catastrophe, while we prepare to offer hospice if needed.
Working on a grant application, some things clarified themselves. The first paragraph is above.
A key clarification is that the alliance with all beings is in fact the center. The land is a learning center, a place to begin that relationship, and a place to take in climate refugees if and when that happens. But the most important thing is changing our relationship with the rest of the planet – collectively. Thus, when asked “what if you don’t get the funding you need?” I answered that the shape of the work will change, but it will continue.
Please look here, for better language. Reading the first few paragraphs will be plenty for most people.
Since I last wrote,
There’s some traveling coming up in my life:
A Zen student arrives in June for a few months; I expect another shortly after he leaves in the fall – good news, not to be alone here. This is meant to be a place of community.
Teachings: I’ve updated the calendar, will just mention a few:
And I don’t even know what’s happening in today’s election.
Here are some pictures.